Story Biodiversity and Energy solutions: Engineering microbes to produce hydrogen fuel

Researchers have designed the basis of a new system for producing hydrogen on an industrial scale using microbes. The system, which they claim is more environmentally friendly than current methods of production, uses genetically engineered yeast and the bacterium Escherichia coli to make the hydrogen.
Release date 23/05/2009
Contributor Rania Spyropoulou
Keywords biodiversity energy microbes hydrogen
Source Source: Waks, Z. and Silver, P. (2009). Engineering a Synthetic Dual-Organism System for Hydrogen Production. Applied and Environmental Microbiology. 75(7): 1867-1875.

Hydrogen has long been touted as a renewable replacement for fossil fuels. It is identified as a key medium- to long-term energy option under the European Commission's European Strategic Energy Plan1. It is more energy-dense than other combustible fuels and its use in fuel cells is more efficient than combustion engines. When it is used it generates no emissions other than water and heat. Hydrogen fuel cells can be used to power cars and heat homes.However, the production of hydrogen does not tend to be emission-free.

Harnessing biological systems for industrial scale production of hydrogen represents an attractive alternative. Many microbes naturally produce hydrogen, either by photosynthesis or fermentation. For this reason, researchers often focus on optimising production in these organisms. However, this new study takes a different approach by modifying a microbe that is commonly used in industrial-scale fermentation processes so that it can be used to generate hydrogen.