[social_buttons] While the first algae-to-biofuels facility went online today, scientists at Argonne National Labs are manipulating the photosynthetic super-organism for another use: creating hydrogen.
Algae grows prolifically in adverse conditions, and can store large amounts of oils or starches useful for making biodiesel or ethanol. But some strains also use an enzyme called hydrogenase to produce small amounts of hydrogen gas. Scientists think this is the organism’s way of getting rid of excess energy under high-light conditions.
But the hydrogen isn’t really linked to photosynthesis in a way that’s useful to the plant (or us). So researchers are now trying to combine the activity of the hydrogenase enzyme with photosynthesis, to produce a sun-powered hydrogen-generation pathway.
The only problem: efficiency. Biological pathways will only convert about 5-10% of the sun’s energy into hydrogen. The scientists at Argonne hope to create a synthetic pathway that steps up the conversion, by extracting the hydrogenase enzyme and placing it in a synthetic protein framework.
Admittedly, this research is in the early stages, but it could someday offer major advances in renewable-fuel production. Is there anything algae can’t do?
Author’s note: this isn’t an April Fool’s joke. The April Fool’s joke can be found here: Ford’s Coal-to-Liquids Concept Vehicle: Release in 2010
Source: Science Daily (Apr. 1, 2008): Algae Could One Day Be Major Hydrogen Fuel Source