TAU Researchers Discover Algae can Yield Mass Quantities of Hydrogen

Image Credit: Tel Aviv University

Researchers at Tel Aviv University have discovered that algae can yield mass quantities of hydrogen, which is considered the world's cleanest energy source.

Researchers have now revealed how microalgae can produce hydrogen and also suggest a possible mechanism for mass production of this eco-friendly energy source. This research result has been presented in back-to-back studies in Plant Physiology and Biotechnology for Biofuels.

Dr. Iftach Yacoby, head of TAU's renewable energy laboratory, along with Rinat Semyatich, Haviva Eisenberg, Iddo Weiner and Oded Liran, who are his students at the School of Plant Sciences and Food Security at TAU's Faculty of Life Sciences were the lead researchers of this study.

Researchers previously believed that algae can only produce hydrogen in the course of a single microburst during sunrise, and that lasts only for a few minutes. However, Dr. Yacoby and his team of researchers used a highly sensitive technology to find that algae can produce hydrogen from photosynthesis throughout the day, and not just during early mornings.

Having successfully finished this research, the research team harnessed genetic engineering to enhance algae's clean energy production by almost 400%.

Increasing Algae's Output of Hydrogen

Laboratory demonstrations proved that algae can produce hydrogen with the help of an enzyme known as hydrogenase. This enzyme breaks down in the presence of oxygen. Researchers found effective mechanisms to remove oxygen so that hydrogenase can continue producing hydrogen.

The discovery of the mechanisms makes it clear that algae have a huge underutilized potential for the production of hydrogen fuel. The next question is how to beef up production for industrial purposes -- to get the algae to overproduce the enzyme.

Dr Iftach Yacoby, TAU

Almost 99% of the hydrogen produced in the United States is derived from natural gas. However, the techniques used to derive hydrogen from natural gas are uneconomical and toxic.

Answering the Need for Clean Energy

I grew up on a farm, dreaming of hydrogen. Since the beginning of time, we have been using agriculture to make our own food. But when it comes to energy, we are still hunter-gatherers. Cultivating energy from agriculture is really the next revolution. There may be other ways to produce hydrogen, but this is the greenest and the only agricultural one. The world burns in just one year energy it took the earth over a million years to produce. We must stop being hunters and gatherers of energy. We must start producing clean energy -- for our children and for our children's children.

Dr Iftach Yacoby, TAU

Dr. Yacoby is now involved in finding synthetic enzymes that can increase hydrogen production from microalgae for various applications in the industrial levels.

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