Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Bugs offer power tips

09.10.2001


Hydrogenases could fuel the future.
© J. Peters


The hydrogen-powered Gremlin from 1972. Cost hindered mass production.
© UCLA


Chemists copy bacterial tricks for making clean fuel.

Bacteria are teaching chemists their tips for creating lean, green fuel. US researchers have developed a catalyst based on a bacterial enzyme that converts cheap acids to hydrogen, the ultimate clean power source.

Unlike other fuels, hydrogen is non-polluting: its combustion makes only water, instead of greenhouse gas carbon dioxide or the poison carbon monoxide. Thomas Rauchfuss and colleagues at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign believe they can steal the secrets of hydrogen-generating bacteria to make the gas cheaply and efficiently1.



Such bacteria contain enzymes called hydrogenases, which can make hydrogen gas from acids. Rauchfuss and his team made a synthetic catalyst that efficiently mimics this enzyme. For industrial hydrogen production, such catalysts might be easier to make, modify and maintain compared to living cells. Thus it should be possible to extract fuel from inexpensive, plentiful acids, they hope.

Like natural gas, hydrogen can be burnt and the energy converted directly into electricity in power sources called fuel cells. Prototypes of hydrogen-powered vehicles have been made, but availability of hydrogen is a sticking point. Although it can be made from sea water by electrolysis, this is not economical.

But hydrogen production and breakdown are a standard part of the metabolism of some bacteria in which they help to convert carbon dioxide and nitrogen into biologically useful compounds. Present-day hydrogen-producing bacteria are thought to be similar to those that predominated during the early days of life on Earth, when carbon dioxide and nitrogen are believed to have been major constituents of the atmosphere.

There are two general classes of hydrogenases. In one, the ’active site’ in the enzyme responsible for hydrogen conversion contains a nickel atom and an iron atom; in the other, this site contains two iron atoms. The two iron atoms are linked by a chemical bond, and are attached to other chemical groups including cyanide, carbon monoxide and sulphur-containing groups. The whole ’core’ is wrapped up in a protein coat. The team developed a small molecule that mimics the ’naked’ core of the active site, minus the coat.

The researchers are confident that it should be possible to make a version that dissolves in water, which would be industrially more useful. At present the catalyst dissolves only in organic solvents.


References

  1. Gloaguen, F., Lawrence, J. D. & Rauchfuss, T. B. Biomimetic hydrogen evolution catalyzed by an iron carbonyl thiolate. Journal of the American Chemical Society, 123, 9476 - 9477, (2001).

PHILIP BALL | Nature News Service
Further information:
http://www.nature.com/nsu/011011/011011-3.html

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Biomarkers for identifying Tumor Aggressiveness
26.07.2017 | Max-Delbrück-Centrum für Molekulare Medizin in der Helmholtz-Gemeinschaft

nachricht The dense vessel network regulates formation of thrombocytes in the bone marrow
25.07.2017 | Rudolf-Virchow-Zentrum für Experimentelle Biomedizin der Universität Würzburg

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Carbon Nanotubes Turn Electrical Current into Light-emitting Quasi-particles

Strong light-matter coupling in these semiconducting tubes may hold the key to electrically pumped lasers

Light-matter quasi-particles can be generated electrically in semiconducting carbon nanotubes. Material scientists and physicists from Heidelberg University...

Im Focus: Flexible proximity sensor creates smart surfaces

Fraunhofer IPA has developed a proximity sensor made from silicone and carbon nanotubes (CNT) which detects objects and determines their position. The materials and printing process used mean that the sensor is extremely flexible, economical and can be used for large surfaces. Industry and research partners can use and further develop this innovation straight away.

At first glance, the proximity sensor appears to be nothing special: a thin, elastic layer of silicone onto which black square surfaces are printed, but these...

Im Focus: 3-D scanning with water

3-D shape acquisition using water displacement as the shape sensor for the reconstruction of complex objects

A global team of computer scientists and engineers have developed an innovative technique that more completely reconstructs challenging 3D objects. An ancient...

Im Focus: Manipulating Electron Spins Without Loss of Information

Physicists have developed a new technique that uses electrical voltages to control the electron spin on a chip. The newly-developed method provides protection from spin decay, meaning that the contained information can be maintained and transmitted over comparatively large distances, as has been demonstrated by a team from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics and the Swiss Nanoscience Institute. The results have been published in Physical Review X.

For several years, researchers have been trying to use the spin of an electron to store and transmit information. The spin of each electron is always coupled...

Im Focus: The proton precisely weighted

What is the mass of a proton? Scientists from Germany and Japan successfully did an important step towards the most exact knowledge of this fundamental constant. By means of precision measurements on a single proton, they could improve the precision by a factor of three and also correct the existing value.

To determine the mass of a single proton still more accurate – a group of physicists led by Klaus Blaum and Sven Sturm of the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Closing the Sustainability Circle: Protection of Food with Biobased Materials

21.07.2017 | Event News

»We are bringing Additive Manufacturing to SMEs«

19.07.2017 | Event News

The technology with a feel for feelings

12.07.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

NASA mission surfs through waves in space to understand space weather

25.07.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Strength of tectonic plates may explain shape of the Tibetan Plateau, study finds

25.07.2017 | Earth Sciences

The dense vessel network regulates formation of thrombocytes in the bone marrow

25.07.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>