Bacterial photosynthesis used to produce hydrogen for a clean biofuel.

Today the price of crude oil hit a new high, and will undoubtedly spur even further exploration for oil. The problem is that this will inevitably lead to even higher greenhouse gas emissions. With the need to find green solutions to the energy needs of the planet, many scientists are using creative ways to produce biofuels, sometimes using nature’s own power. The overarching need is for a cheap and renewable fuel. Professor Willem Vermaas of the Centre for the Study of Early Events in Photosynthesis at Arizona State University is working to engineer cyanobacteria to produce biofuels.

The biohydrogen project Professor Vermaas is working for, aims to produce hydrogen using cytobacteria and the process of photosynthesis to develop new biofuels. The sun’s light breaks water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen, capturing energy in the process. He uses the cytobacteria’s ability to extract energy from the sun, something it has been doing for 2 billion years.

Skip Derra of Research ASU quotes Professor Vermaas as saying: “It generates energy without releasing CO2 into the atmosphere. It is the ultimate clean energy technology because you are splitting water to make the hydrogen. If you burn the hydrogen, you get water back. In essence, with our process you are converting solar energy into a clean fuel. To optimise the system, the microorganism must be retooled to put most of the energy it gathers from sunlight into a compound useful for biohydrogen production.” It is a renewable process because the water used in the hydrogen production can then be used again.

The cytobacteria was the first was the first photosynthetic organism to be genetically sequenced. Professor Vermaas and the team working on the project are refining the productive capacity of the bacteria to optimize the hydrogen it produces. More detail on the process can be read at the Research ASU link.

It is still early days for this exciting new technology but it offers another way to harness the sun to meet our energy needs. As Professor Vermaas says “the process already has demonstrated that it can produce some energy, there still is a long way to go to make it economical and efficient.” Funding for the biohydrogen project is being administered through the Global Institute of Sustainability, which, with the ASU’s School of Sustainability has the goals of researching new, environmentally friendly technologies and educating students on sustainability.

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~ by abstraktbiblos on Wednesday, 20 February, 2008.

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