Karin Willquist, a doctoral student in Applied Microbiology at Lund University in Sweden will soon be presenting a thesis on the subject of a newly discovered bacterium that produces twice as much hydrogen gas as the bacteria currently used. The results show how, when and why the bacterium can perform its excellent work and increase the possibilities of competitive biological production of hydrogen gas.

Karin Willquist Bacteria Hydrogen Gas Production. This is the full size image.

Today hydrogen gas is used primarily for manufacturing chemicals sourced from natural gas, but a bright future is predicted by some for hydrogen as a vehicle fuel in combination with or simply in fuel cells.  Hydrogen, the simplest atom is also the simplest store of energy.  Used quickly hydrogen can be a great energy store as a fuel and easy to transport for use.

For climate neutral hydrogen gas production bacteria are added to forestry or household waste, using a method similar to biogas production such as methane. The major problem with this production method is that the hydrogen exchange is low, or its said that the raw materials generate little hydrogen gas.

Here’s where Willquist and her bacteria come in, “There are three important explanations for why this bacterium, which is called Caldicellulosiruptor saccharolyticus (CS), produces more hydrogen gas than others. One is that it has adapted to a low-energy environment, which has caused it to develop effective transport systems for carbohydrates and the ability to break down inaccessible parts of plants with the help of enzymes. This in turn means it produces more hydrogen gas. The second explanation is that CS can cope with higher growth temperatures than many other bacteria. The higher the temperature, the more hydrogen gas can be formed.”  The young lady is on to something.  One’s waste production might go on to power a home fuel cell someday.

Willquist seems to understand the mountain climb that bio free hydrogen production requires.  Her third point is that the CS bacterium can still produce hydrogen gas even in difficult conditions, for example high partial hydrogen pressure, which is necessary if biological hydrogen gas production is to be financially viable.

One issue has come up; the bacterium does not like high concentrations of salt or hydrogen gas. These affect the signaling molecules in the bacterium and, in turn, the metabolism in such a way that it produces less hydrogen gas.  Willquist points out, “But it is possible to direct the process so that salt and hydrogen gas concentrations do not become too high.”

This bright student realizes another overlooked matter.  When hydrogen is used as an energy carrier, water is the only by-product.  But hydrogen gas production alone when done by a conventional method, consumes large amounts of energy, which means hydrogen gas is still not a very environmentally friendly energy carrier.

Here’s Willquist’s argument for more progress with her bacteria.  Methane reformation or electrolysis of water are currently the most common ways to produce hydrogen gas. But methane gas is not so easily renewable just yet and using fossil sources leads to increased carbon dioxide emissions. Electrolysis requires electrical energy, usually acquired from fossil fuels, but also sometimes from wind or solar power. Hydrogen gas can also be generated from wind power, which is an environmentally friendly alternative, even if wind power is controversial for other reasons.  These paths are under intense research, as we know.

Willquist predicts, “If hydrogen gas is produced from biomass, there is no addition of carbon dioxide because the carbon dioxide formed in the production is the same that is absorbed from the atmosphere by the plants being used. Bio-hydrogen gas will probably complement biogas in the future.” If she’s getting CO² as well she has a better process than she might realize.

The favorite example and one Willquist uses is, “A first step towards a hydrogen gas society could be to mix hydrogen gas with methane gas and use the existing methane gas infrastructure. Buses in Malmö, for example, drive on a mixture of hydrogen gas and methane gas.”  Which is a great idea when a carbon source is lacking or too expensive.

Congratulations for Willquist – Caldicellulosiruptor saccharolyticus was isolated for the first time in 1987 in a hot spring in New Zealand. It is only recently that researchers have really begun to realize the potential of the bacterium.  There’s a long way to go . . .

But as the estimable Al Fin observed, CO² just might get rather dear some day, leading to a “peak CO²” situation.  The temptation for a laugh is hard to suppress, but Mr. Fin will be right – for example the list of nuclear plants outside the U.S. in planning for construction is astounding – or that its getting so that the most interesting leading edge research idea are coming from outside the U.S.

I can’t resist – how’s that ‘change to a new economy’ working out for the U.S.?


12 Comments so far

  1. World University Information on May 31, 2010 1:23 AM

    […] Bacteria to Produce Hydrogen Gas | New Energy and Fuel […]

  2. Driving Energy Efficiency in the Datacenter on May 31, 2010 11:31 AM

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  8. Amanda on May 6, 2011 9:42 AM

    This is very poorly written- grammar and syntax aside, it is mentioned that there are 3 mechanisms by which CS produces more hydrogen gas than other bacteria, but you only divulge 2 of these. Also, CS produces twice as much hydrogen gas as other bacteria… which bacteria?

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    Nice post! You truly have a wonderful way of writing which I find captivating! I will definitely be bookmarking you and returning to your blog. In fact, your post reminded me about a strange thing that happened to me the other day. I’ll tell you about that later…

  12. wael el maria on January 27, 2012 4:10 PM

    thinking of producing a device that genrats a flamable gas for home use as we have a big problem in potagas tubes in egypt

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