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Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe and now it is considered to be the fuel of the future with car companies using it to fuel their futuristic car models. However, producing hydrogen takes up a lot of energy so scientists have been looking for green alternatives.

Researchers from the University of Bristol and in cooperation with Harbin Institute of Technology created droplet-based microbial properties that produce hydrogen by photosynthesis which could be an alternative energy source in the future.

The researchers published their study on November 25 in Nature Communications.

Tiny Droplet-Based Microbial Factories Produce Hydrogen

According to SciTech Daily, the researchers used sugary droplets with algal cells that usually releases oxygen but was able to generate hydrogen by photosynthesis.

The team trapped over 10,000 algal cells in each droplet where it is crammed together by osmotic compression. Oxygen levels fell to a level when algal cells were buried deep inside the droplets that trigger special enzymes known as hydrogenases that hijacked the normal process of photosynthesis to produce hydrogen instead of oxygen.

Through this, the researchers were able to prepare in one milliliter of water 25% of one million microbial factories that typically only one-tenth of a millimeter in size.

They found a way to increase the level of hydrogen evolution by coating the living micro-reactors with a thin shell of bacteria that can scavenge for oxygen, thus increasing the number of algal cells prepared for hydrogenase activity.

Although this discovery is still in its early stage, the researchers believe that this could be a step towards photobiological green energy development under natural aerobic conditions, Techexplorist reported.

"Using simple droplets as vectors for controlling algal cell organization and photosynthesis in synthetic micro-spaces offers a potentially environmentally benign approach to hydrogen production that we hope to develop in future work," said Professor Stephen Mann, Co-Director of the Max Planck Bristol Centre for Minimal Biology at Bristol.

Moreover, Professor Xin Huang at Harbin Institute of Technology said that their methodology is facile and should scale up without compromising the viability of the cells. He added that it should be flexible just like the yeast cells in the sugary droplets they used to produce ethanol.

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Is Hydrogen The Fuel of the Future?

As the most abundant element in the universe, hydrogen is now used in oil refining with a current demand of over 70 million tons every year.

These days, hydrogen supply is very important to industrial users wherein demand has multiplied by more than three times since 1975 and continues to increase.

However, the production of hydrogen involves the burning of natural gas and coal which contributes 830 million carbon dioxide per year that is equal to the carbon emission of the UK and France combined.

So scientists are looking for greener ways to generate hydrogen. One of which is electrolysis of water which requires electricity that could come from renewable sources that would not have carbon emissions in the process. 

But the latest research is by the combined effort of researchers from the University of Bristol and Harbin Institute of Technology which produced hydrogen by photosynthesis.


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