Fuel from algae

Published: Friday 31 March 2000

scientists at the University of California, Berkeley and the us National Renewable Energy Laboratory, have found a way to use green algae to produce hydrogen gas from sunlight and water. The technique, they say, may help produce enough hydrogen to meet future fuel needs.

The scientists have demonstrated that the natural photosynthetic apparatus of certain types of green algae can be turned off and redirected to create hydrogen. Firstly, the algae is prevented from coming into contact with sulphur. This helps to prevent photosynthesis whereby the cell cannot produce oxygen.

Without oxygen, the anaerobic cells are not able to burn stored fuel in the usual way--through metabolic respiration--and are forced to activate an alternative metabolic pathway. This generates hydrogen and may be present in many types of algae.

According to Tasios Melis, professor of Plant and Microbial Biology at the University of California, Berkeley, the cells utilise stored compounds and bleed hydrogen just to survive. Estimates show it is conceivable that a single, small commercial pond could produce enough hydrogen gas to meet the weekly fuel needs of a dozen or so automobiles. The scientific team has begun to test ways to maximise hydrogen production, including varying the type of microalgae used and its growth conditions.

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