Running on algae
Hydrogen-producing algae breakthrough
By Chris Williams
Friday 24th February 2006 15:28 GMT
Genetic engineers have made a leap in developing a strain of algae with the potential to supply fuel for a future hydrogen economy, Wired reports.
Unpublished work from the University of California at Berkeley may have brought the technology past the economically viable 10 per cent efficiency level. By shortening the chlorophyll stacks in the photosynthetic organelles, plant physiologist Tasios Melis has "probably" passed the threshold.
Research has already ramped-up the rate by a factor of 100,000 by isolating the algae from sulphur, and groups are working to further improve it. One problem is the hydrogenase enzyme, which releases the precious fuel, cannot currently function in the presence of oxygen - but photosynthesis requires oxygen.
It's hoped changing the algal DNA to close pores that allow oxygen in will increase the hydrogen production.
The prospect is of huge desert algae farms supplying the world with a bonanza of cheap, clean energy.
Little surprise then, that ubiquitous bio-entrepreneur, ¤Craig Venter has his finger firmly in the pie, with research aimed at polishing the hydrogen molecular pathway itself so it can operate constantly.
¤Craig Ventner is an employee of Google. This breakthrough could represent a new stream of revenues for the company. Of course, it (the technology, the process, the distribution, etc) must first be made practical, it is initially unclear the relationship between Ventner and this process, and it is wholly unclear whether the employee/employer relationship between Ventner and Google includes items such as this one.
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-- David M Gordon / The Deipnosophist