In Fuel Breakthrough, Scientists Make Hydrogen from Sugar: Simple Process Uses Enzymes from Hot-Water Bacteria

Article excerpt

Scientists in the United States and England say they have found a way to make hydrogen from sugar by using enzymes from bacteria that grow in extremely hot water, a development that potentially could have important implications for the fuel industry.

"I think this is very important research. . . . I believe hydrogen has a future in the 21st century as a major source of energy," said Jonathan Woodward, a senior researcher at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in Oak Ridge, Tenn.

He is co-author of the study on hydrogen production from glucose, published in the July issue of the science journal Nature Biotechnology.

In the laboratory experiments that led to the discovery, Mr. Woodward collaborated with Michael Danson, a biochemist at the University of Bath in western Britain, and with investigators at the University of Georgia.

In their report, they describe a process in which they used enzymes from bacteria that live near hot underwater vents to convert glucose into hydrogen and water. One enzyme used was from an organism that grows in boiling water.

Mr. Woodward and Mr. Danson purified enzymes from two species of bacteria and watched how they reacted with glucose, a simple substance composed of hydrogen, oxygen and carbon atoms.

"What we have done is taken glucose, and we have oxidized it with an enzyme. . . . It produced molecular hydrogen," Mr. Danson told the Reuters news agency.

"You can take sugar like glucose, convert it into a substance called gluconate, and produce hydrogen. . . . We get 100 percent conversion" in the laboratory, he added.

For years, energy researchers have sought a clean, cheap way to produce pure hydrogen in an effort to replace pollution-creating fossil fuels and atomic reactors.

"The future use of hydrogen as a renewable fuel is receiving wide attention in both political and technical circles, but "little consideration has been given to an in-vitro enzymatic method for the conversion" of glucose to hydrogen, the researchers wrote. …