E. Coli: The Next Big Source of Hydrogen Fuel?
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The lowly, ubiquitous E. coli, long given a bad rap for its association with food poisoning (see: spinach) despite its more common beneficial roles in the human stomach, could yet gain a broader measure of respectability if Thomas Wood's research pans out. Wood, a professor of chemical engineering at Texas A&M;, successfully tweaked a strain of E. coli to get it to produce 140 times more hydrogen than it does naturally.
He and his colleagues selectively removed 6 genes from the strain's DNA to convert its cell machinery into a mini hydrogen-producing dynamo powered by glucose. The E. coli strain is able to convert sugar into hydrogen through a special fermentative process.Wood's strain is well positioned to take advantage of the numerous scientific and industrial processes aimed at making sugar from various crops; he explains: "We want to take that sugar and make it into hydrogen. We're going to get sugar from some crop somewhere. We're going to get some form of sugar-like molecule and use the bacteria to convert that into hydrogen." In addition, because such biological processes don't require extra heating or electricity, Wood believes they would help to significantly cut down on costs.
His plan would also do away with the need for a means of storage and transportation, often cited as one of the most challenging aspects of hydrogen production, by allowing for hydrogen conversion "on site." As he puts it, "the idea is to make the hydrogen where you need it."
While much remains to be done before this process can be scaled up for commercial use, Wood is already confident of its potential to power the next generation of homes and vehicles. In its current state, he estimates that an individual would need to shovel the equivalent of a man's weight of sugar into a 250-gallon fuel tank so that the E. coli-reactor could produce enough hydrogen to power the average home for an entire day.
Via ::ScienceDaily: E. Coli Bacteria: A Future Source Of Energy? (news website)