Biobatteries get a hydrogen boost

Synthetic enzyme turns air and gas into electricity

It’s an old trick in science class to make an LED light glow using just a potato as the battery, but bacterial fuel cells and biological batteries have come a long way in recent years. We’ve known for ages that some bacteria and plant enzymes can liberate electrons from bio feedstocks, but it’s been almost impossible to turn those lab experiments into useful devices or energy sources.

Until now. The first signal that a breakthrough was on the horizon emerged in 2023, when Australian scientists successfully isolated an enzyme that efficiently turns ambient hydrogen directly into electricity. In fact, the hydrogen fuel cell-in-a-plant cell could even power up from the minute traces of hydrogen in the atmosphere. Just exposing it to air was sufficient to generate and maintain a tiny charge.

Since then, scientists have used CRISPR cut ‘n paste genetic editing tech to refine and improve the enzyme, so that it can harvest hydrogen from common sources like natural gas or biogas, and turn it into usable power. In the past, we had to burn fuels to drive turbines, or waste a lot of power on electrolysis to make hydrogen for fuel cells. Now we can get microbes to turn gas into electricity, naturally.

And the best news is it’s easy to scale up production of this new enzyme. The bacterium that produces it thrives on farm waste, sewage, and similar bio feedstocks. Like the leftovers from a canning factory. So it’s a winning solution for pollution too.

This will be a game-changer for new energy companies producing biofuels, green hydrogen, and fuel cells, cutting out the high costs of handling and transport, and moving to an energy-on-demand model instead. As with any new technology, there will be winners and losers, but ultimately we all benefit from cheaper, cleaner, and more abundant energy.

Warning: Hazardous thinking at work

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