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 Lethal combination: Drug cocktail turns off the juice to cancer cells
12.12.2018 | Universität Basel

nachricht Smelling the forest – not the trees
12.12.2018 | Universität Konstanz

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Lethal combination: Drug cocktail turns off the juice to cancer cells

A widely used diabetes medication combined with an antihypertensive drug specifically inhibits tumor growth – this was discovered by researchers from the University of Basel’s Biozentrum two years ago. In a follow-up study, recently published in “Cell Reports”, the scientists report that this drug cocktail induces cancer cell death by switching off their energy supply.

The widely used anti-diabetes drug metformin not only reduces blood sugar but also has an anti-cancer effect. However, the metformin dose commonly used in the...

Im Focus: New Foldable Drone Flies through Narrow Holes in Rescue Missions

A research team from the University of Zurich has developed a new drone that can retract its propeller arms in flight and make itself small to fit through narrow gaps and holes. This is particularly useful when searching for victims of natural disasters.

Inspecting a damaged building after an earthquake or during a fire is exactly the kind of job that human rescuers would like drones to do for them. A flying...

Im Focus: Topological material switched off and on for the first time

Key advance for future topological transistors

Over the last decade, there has been much excitement about the discovery, recognised by the Nobel Prize in Physics only two years ago, that there are two types...

Im Focus: Researchers develop method to transfer entire 2D circuits to any smooth surface

What if a sensor sensing a thing could be part of the thing itself? Rice University engineers believe they have a two-dimensional solution to do just that.

Rice engineers led by materials scientists Pulickel Ajayan and Jun Lou have developed a method to make atom-flat sensors that seamlessly integrate with devices...

Im Focus: Three components on one chip

Scientists at the University of Stuttgart and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) succeed in important further development on the way to quantum Computers.

Quantum computers one day should be able to solve certain computing problems much faster than a classical computer. One of the most promising approaches is...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

ICTM Conference 2019: Digitization emerges as an engineering trend for turbomachinery construction

12.12.2018 | Event News

New Plastics Economy Investor Forum - Meeting Point for Innovations

10.12.2018 | Event News

EGU 2019 meeting: Media registration now open

06.12.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

New discoveries predict ability to forecast dementia from single molecule

12.12.2018 | Health and Medicine

CCNY-Yale researchers make shape shifting cell breakthrough

12.12.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Pain: Perception and motor impulses arise in the brain independently of one another

12.12.2018 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>