Bacteria can generate hydrogen

I’ve been a bit sceptical of hydrogen as a fuel of the future, mostly because with traditional hydrogen technology, you have to keep making the stuff from water and that usually needs a fair amount of electricity. So by the time you get through the whole process of making and transmitting the electricity, then making, storing, releasing and eventually using hydrogen, it would probably have been as efficient too burn coal to generate steam to power your vehicle as to use hydrogen.
Now, some researchers at Penn State University have harnessed bacteria to the challenge, at a stroke turning it into a biofuel (yay!) and, they claim, increasing the energy efficiency of the process which is described in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. At the heart of the process lies a bio-electrochemically assisted microbial reactor
In other words to pep-up the hydrogen-generating-potential of the cells, which contained weak acetic acid (which typically is what you get when ethanol oxidises) they applied a small voltage (0.5-0.6V) and generated around 1.1m^3 hydrogen from each 1m^3 cell/day at an efficiency of around 82%.
There are several things I like about this. Firstly it relies on fermenting products found in waste water which, apart from the cost of the yeast, is free. Secondly, with a bit of luck the bacteria will be self sustaining (won’t crawl out of its tank and go for world domination)
What I’m sceptical about… the rate of the reaction and the yield. It will take a relatively long time for the process of fermentation of organic matter to alcohol and its natural oxidation to acetic acid and finally how we are going to store and distribute the hydrogen generated?
Hattip to Wired.

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2 Responses to Bacteria can generate hydrogen

  1. Phil 14 November, 2007 at 7:45 pm #

    I, too, am excited about hydrogen becoming a biofuel. The storage problem is being addressed. For example, researchers recently unveiled a new material that’s twice as efficient as previous storage materials and operates at room (not cryogenic) temperature. Nanotech materials like nanotubes and metal-oxide frameworks offer even better storage capacities.

    The biofuel aspect really makes the “hydrogen economy” seem like a possibility rather than a nice dream.

  2. biofuelsimon 16 November, 2007 at 10:55 am #

    Nanotech materials might be a better way of storing hydrogen than other processes. I guess we need an industrial process or two that will make them quickly and efficiently in an environmentally sustainable way.

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