Scientists in Australia have discovered an enzyme that converts air into energy leading them to predict ‘the sky is literally the limit’ for a potential new clean energy source.
The finding identifies how the enzyme uses the low amounts of the hydrogen in the atmosphere to create an electrical current.
The research team, led by Dr Rhys Grinter, PhD student Ashleigh Kropp, and Professor Chris Greening from the Monash University Biomedicine Discovery Institute in Melbourne, Australia, produced a hydrogen-consuming enzyme from a common soil bacterium after they showed that many bacteria use hydrogen from the atmosphere as an energy source in extreme environments.
‘We’ve known for some time that bacteria can use the trace hydrogen in the air as a source of energy to help them grow and survive, including in Antarctic soils, volcanic craters, and the deep ocean, said Professor Greening. ‘But we didn’t know how they did this, until now.’
In their academic Nature paper, the researchers described how the enzyme, called Huc, turns hydrogen gas into an electrical current.
Dr Grinter added: ‘Huc is extraordinarily efficient. Unlike all other known enzymes and chemical catalysts, it even consumes hydrogen below atmospheric levels – as little as 0.00005% of the air we breathe.
In the lab, the team proved that Huc can be frozen or heated to 80 degrees Celsius without losing its power to generate electricity.
Huc is a ‘natural battery’ said the team, that produces a sustained electrical current from air or added hydrogen. They believe the discovery of Huc has considerable potential to develop small air-powered devices, for example as an alternative to solar-powered devices.
The bacteria that produce enzymes like Huc are common and can be grown in large quantities, meaning we have access to a sustainable source of the enzyme, said Dr Grinter who noted that a key objective for future work is to scale up Huc production. “Once we produce Huc in sufficient quantities, the sky is quite literally the limit for using it to produce clean energy.”
Syntegra MD Alan King welcomed news of the breakthrough.
He said: ‘A lot of exciting work is underway in the field of renewable energy which has to be good news for the development of alternative sources of power as we tackle the climate crisis.
‘The built environment will undergo a dramatic transformation as new sustainable options come to the market which goes a long way to addressing environmental concerns.’
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