Monday, June 9, 2008

Bacteria Produce Lots of Hydrogen

The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has published research showing a new process by which bacteria consume fermenting cellulose and produce hydrogen – lots of hydrogen.

PennStateUniversity and Ion Power Inc. have developed a process that uses bacteria in an electrically charged fuel cell called a Microbial Fuel Cell (MFC) to get high yields of hydrogen.

Prof. Bruce Logan of PSU:

This MFC process is not limited to using only carbohydrate-based biomass for hydrogen production like conventional fermentation processes. We can theoretically use our MFCs to obtain high yields of hydrogen from any biodegradable, dissolved, organic matter — human, agricultural or industrial wastewater, for example — and simultaneously clean the wastewater.

Basically, we use the same microbial fuel cell we developed to clean wastewater and produce electricity. However, to produce hydrogen, we keep oxygen out of the MFC and add a small amount of power into the system.

The bacteria consume acetic acid, which is produced in the cellulosic fermentation process or in the Mix Alco process. Cellulosic fermentation requires enzymes to convert cellulose to sugars that can then be fermented. The Mix Alco process converts cellulose to acetic acid through a process that mimics how a cow’s stomach digests grass.

The Department of Energy has found an algae that makes hydrogen, which means we might be at the dawn of an interspecies competition for hydrogen domination!

Via: Wired Science

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