Hydrogen fuel cells may have just taken a giant leap forward. Indiana University scientists just announced they’ve managed to create a highly efficient biomaterial that takes in protons and “spits out” hydrogen gas. Called “P22-Hyd,” this modified enzyme can be grown using a simple room temperature fermentation process — making it much more eco-friendly and considerably cheaper than the materials currently used in fuel cells, like platinum.
In a press release, lead author of the study Trevor Douglas noted, “This material is comparable to platinum, except it’s truly renewable. You don’t need to mine it; you can create it at room temperature on a massive scale using fermentation technology; it’s biodegradable. It’s a very green process to make a very high-end sustainable material.”
The way the enzyme is created is interesting in its own right. Researchers use two genes from E. coli bacteria inserted into the capsid, or viral protein shell, of a second virus. These genes then produce hydrogenase, the enzyme used to set off the hydrogen reaction.
This may sound a little complicated — and it is. Douglas admits that in the past, it’s been hard to harness hydrogenase for biofuel production due to its sensitivity to environmental conditions like warm temperatures. This new method creates enzymes that are much more stable, allowing it to be used more efficiently. Hopefully this discover will help drive down the cost of hydrogen cars — currently the vehicles retail for between $50,000 and $100,000.
The IU study has been published in the most recent issue of the journal Nature Chemistry.