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Biological hydrogen production (Algae)

  Biological hydrogen production is done in a bioreactor based on the production of hydrogen by algae. Algae produce hydrogen under certain conditions. In the late 1990s it was discovered that if algae are deprived of sulfur they will switch from the production of oxygen, as in normal photosynthesis, to the production of hydrogen.


Bioreactor design issues

  • Restriction of photosynthetic hydrogen production by accumulation of a proton gradient.
  • Competitive inhibition of photosynthetic hydrogen production by carbon dioxide.
  • Requirement for bicarbonate binding at photosystem II (PSII) for efficient photosynthetic activity.
  • Competitive drainage of electrons by oxygen in algal hydrogen production.
  • Economic feasibility-The energy efficiency - the conversion of sunlight into hydrogen - has to reach 7-10 percent (alga in its natural form achieves at most a meager 0.1 percent).

Attempts are in progress to solve these problems via bioengineering.


2006 - Researchers from the University of Bielefeld and the University of Queensland have genetically changed the single-cell green alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii in such a way that it produces an especially large amount of hydrogen.[1] The Stm6 can, in the long run, produce five times the volume made by the wild form of alga and up to 1.6-2.0 percent energy efficiency.

2006 - Unpublished work from the University of California at Berkeley-(The program is done by Midwest Research Institute, the operating contractor for NREL)- may have brought the technology past the economically viable 10 percent efficiency level. By shortening the chlorophyll stacks in the photosynthetic organelles, Anastasios Melis has "probably" passed the threshold.[2] [3]


2006 - At the University of Karlsruhe, a prototype of a bio-reactor containing 500-1,000 litres of algae cultures is being developed. The reactor is to be used to prove the economic feasibility of the system in the next five years.

2007 - It was discovered that if copper is added algae will switch from the production of oxygen to hydrogen[1]

A joint venture between El Paso's Valcent Products and the Canadian Alternative Energy firm, Global Green Solutions has built a $3 Million dollar laboratory to further develop a system that will allow for low cost, mass production of algae in just about any location across the globe. The algae is grown in a "closed loop" and produces more hydrogen than that of naturally occurring algae. While algae grows well in an "open pond", the Vertigro system uses a greenhouse filled with tall, clear plastic bags, suspended end to end in rows, to breed algae.


It would take an algae farm the size of the state of Texas to produce enough hydrogen to supply the energy needs of the whole world. It would take about 25,000 square kilometres to be sufficient to displace gasoline use in the US; this is less than a tenth of the area devoted to growing soya in the US but would equal the size of the state of Vermont, all dedicated to raising this form of algae. [4].


In 1939 a German researcher named Hans Gaffron, while working at the University of Chicago, observed that the algae he was studying, Chlamydomonas reinhardtii (a green-algae), would sometimes switch from the production of oxygen to the production of hydrogen.[5] Gaffron never discovered the cause for this change and for many years other scientists failed in their attempts at its discovery. In the late 1990s professor Anastasios Melis a researcher at the University of California at Berkeley discovered that if the algae culture medium is deprived of sulfur it will switch from the production of oxygen (normal photosynthesis), to the production of hydrogen. He found that the enzyme responsible for this reaction is hydrogenase, but that the hydrogenase lost this function in the presence of oxygen. Melis found that depleting the amount of sulfur available to the algae interrupted its internal oxygen flow, allowing the hydrogenase an environment in which it can react, causing the algae to produce hydrogen. [6] Chlamydomonas moewusii is also a good strain for the production of hydrogen.

See also

  1. ^ Copper
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Biological_hydrogen_production_(Algae)". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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