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 Cnidarians remotely control bacteria
21.09.2017 | Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel

nachricht Immune cells may heal bleeding brain after strokes
21.09.2017 | NIH/National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Highly precise wiring in the Cerebral Cortex

Our brains house extremely complex neuronal circuits, whose detailed structures are still largely unknown. This is especially true for the so-called cerebral cortex of mammals, where among other things vision, thoughts or spatial orientation are being computed. Here the rules by which nerve cells are connected to each other are only partly understood. A team of scientists around Moritz Helmstaedter at the Frankfiurt Max Planck Institute for Brain Research and Helene Schmidt (Humboldt University in Berlin) have now discovered a surprisingly precise nerve cell connectivity pattern in the part of the cerebral cortex that is responsible for orienting the individual animal or human in space.

The researchers report online in Nature (Schmidt et al., 2017. Axonal synapse sorting in medial entorhinal cortex, DOI: 10.1038/nature24005) that synapses in...

Im Focus: Tiny lasers from a gallery of whispers

New technique promises tunable laser devices

Whispering gallery mode (WGM) resonators are used to make tiny micro-lasers, sensors, switches, routers and other devices. These tiny structures rely on a...

Im Focus: Ultrafast snapshots of relaxing electrons in solids

Using ultrafast flashes of laser and x-ray radiation, scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (Garching, Germany) took snapshots of the briefest electron motion inside a solid material to date. The electron motion lasted only 750 billionths of the billionth of a second before it fainted, setting a new record of human capability to capture ultrafast processes inside solids!

When x-rays shine onto solid materials or large molecules, an electron is pushed away from its original place near the nucleus of the atom, leaving a hole...

Im Focus: Quantum Sensors Decipher Magnetic Ordering in a New Semiconducting Material

For the first time, physicists have successfully imaged spiral magnetic ordering in a multiferroic material. These materials are considered highly promising candidates for future data storage media. The researchers were able to prove their findings using unique quantum sensors that were developed at Basel University and that can analyze electromagnetic fields on the nanometer scale. The results – obtained by scientists from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics, the Swiss Nanoscience Institute, the University of Montpellier and several laboratories from University Paris-Saclay – were recently published in the journal Nature.

Multiferroics are materials that simultaneously react to electric and magnetic fields. These two properties are rarely found together, and their combined...

Im Focus: Fast, convenient & standardized: New lab innovation for automated tissue engineering & drug

MBM ScienceBridge GmbH successfully negotiated a license agreement between University Medical Center Göttingen (UMG) and the biotech company Tissue Systems Holding GmbH about commercial use of a multi-well tissue plate for automated and reliable tissue engineering & drug testing.

MBM ScienceBridge GmbH successfully negotiated a license agreement between University Medical Center Göttingen (UMG) and the biotech company Tissue Systems...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

“Lasers in Composites Symposium” in Aachen – from Science to Application

19.09.2017 | Event News

I-ESA 2018 – Call for Papers

12.09.2017 | Event News

EMBO at Basel Life, a new conference on current and emerging life science research

06.09.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Comet or asteroid? Hubble discovers that a unique object is a binary

21.09.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Cnidarians remotely control bacteria

21.09.2017 | Life Sciences

Monitoring the heart's mitochondria to predict cardiac arrest?

21.09.2017 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>