By modifying a few genes in the stomach bacteria E. coli, scientists from Texas A&M have made the bacteria capable of producing hydrogen - possibly enough to power vehicles and homes in the future.
Scanning electron micrograph of Escherichia coli. (Credit: Rocky Mountain Laboratories, NIAID, NIH)
A research team lead by Thomas Wood, a Professor of Chemical Engineering, has deleted six of the 5,000 genes from E. coli's DNA. This modification enhances the bacteria's glucose-conversion abilities.
By consuming sugar, the bacteria can generate hydrogen. Currently, the E. coli strain can produce 140 times more hydrogen than is created in naturally occurring processes, and the researchers plan to make the process even more efficient.
The sugar could come from a wide variety of biofuels (e.g. corn), Wood explains. "A lot of people are working on converting something that you grow into some kind of sugar. We want to take that sugar and make it into hydrogen. ... We're going to get some form of sugar-like molecule and use the bacteria to convert that into hydrogen."
This method of generating hydrogen could potentially be much less expensive than the conventional electrolysis technique (splitting water). With E. coli, Wood explains that capturing the hydrogen from the bacteria is easy and inexpensive. Because the gas bubbles up from the bacteria solution, "you just catch the gas as it comes out of the glass. That's it. You have pure hydrogen."
The E. coli technique could also offer a solution to the challenge of hydrogen transportation, which can be dangerous and costly. With the bacteria, hydrogen could be produced on-site, eliminating the need for transporting hydrogen. Instead, the material to be transported would be sugar.
So now, Wood and his colleagues are working on minimizing the amount of sugar required to produce a certain amount of hydrogen - making the process more efficient.
As Wood explains, the current scheme would require about 175 pounds of sugar per day to provide enough hydrogen to power a US home for one day. He's hoping to get that amount of sugar down to 17 pounds, and possibly less.
The researchers say that, although more work needs to be done on the process, they're hoping they're on the right track.
via: Texas A&M