Hydrogen sounds great as an alternative energy power source – its clean burning, with water being the major exhaust gas from a hydrogen engine. But while it sounds great, one of the major problems with hydrogen is how to produce it in large enough quantities to use it as fuel.
This image shows the process by which Photosystem I in thermophilic blue-green algae can be catalyzed by platinum to produce a sustainable source of hydrogen. (Credit: Barry D. Bruce/University of Tennessee, Knoxville)
Right now, the current process most often used to create hydrogen involves high temperatures usually created by the burning of fossil fuels. But recently, researchers from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory have created a process that uses algae along with a platinum catalyst so that when the algae is exposed to light, it will produce a “steady supply” of hydrogen.
Professor Barry Bruce, the leader of the research team, developed the process by starting with thermophilic blue-green algae, which favors warmer temperatures, and is most productive at temperatures of around 131 degrees F, which is is what you would find in a solar powered system. By using plants to create hydrogen directly, they eliminated the steps that are currently taken to turn plant matter into biofuel. “Biofuel as many people think of it now — harvesting plants and converting their woody material into sugars which get distilled into combustible liquids — probably cannot replace gasoline as a major source of fuel,” said Professor Bruce. “We found that our process is more direct and has the potential to create a much larger quantity of fuel using much less energy, which has a wide range of benefits.”