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Current Affairs

Hydrogen producing algal droplets

Date: 30 November 2020 Tags: Energy

Issue

Scientists have built tiny droplet-based microbial factories that produce hydrogen, instead of oxygen, when exposed to daylight in air.

 

Background

The study used sugary droplets packed with living algal cells to generate hydrogen, rather than oxygen, by photosynthesis.

 

Details

  • Hydrogen is potentially a climate-neutral fuel, offering many possible uses as a future energy source.

  • A major drawback is that making hydrogen involves using a lot of energy, so green alternatives are being sought and this discovery could provide an important step forward.

  • By burying the cells deep inside the droplets, oxygen levels fell to a level that switched on special enzymes called hydrogenases that hijacked the normal photosynthetic pathway to produce hydrogen.

  • To increase the level of hydrogen evolution, the team coated the living micro-reactors with a thin shell of bacteria, which were able to scavenge for oxygen and therefore increase the number of algal cells geared up for hydrogenase activity.

 

Hydrogen fuel

  • Hydrogen fuel is a zero-emission fuel burned with oxygen. It can be used in fuel cells or internal combustion engines.

  • Hydrogen is usually considered an energy carrier, like electricity, as it must be produced from a primary energy source such as solar energy, biomass, electricity, or hydrocarbons such as natural gas or coal.

  • Conventional hydrogen production using natural gas induces significant environmental impacts; as with the use of any hydrocarbon, carbon dioxide is emitted.

  • Hydrogen fuel can provide motive power for liquid-propellant rockets, cars, trains, boats, and airplanes, portable fuel cell applications or stationary fuel cell applications, which can power an electric motor.

  • The problems of using hydrogen fuel in cars arise from the fact that hydrogen is difficult to store in either a high pressure tank or a cryogenic tank.