Biological Hydrogen Production
Biological hydrogen production is a method of photobiological water splitting which done in a closed photobioreactor based on the production of hydrogen by algae. Algae produce hydrogen under certain conditions. In 2000 it was discovered that if C. reinhardtii algae are deprived of sulfur they will switch from the production of oxygen, as in normal photosynthesis, to the production of hydrogen.
The chlorophyll (Chl) antenna size in green algae is minimized, or truncated, to maximize photobiological solar conversion efficiency and H2 production. The truncated Chl antenna size minimizes absorption and wasteful dissipation of sunlight by individual cells, resulting in better light utilization efficiency and greater photosynthetic productivity by the green alga mass culture.
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. 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. Chlamydomonas moewusii is also a good strain for the production of hydrogen. Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory are currently trying to find a way to take the part of the hydrogenase enzyme that creates the hydrogen gas and introduce it into the photosynthesis process. The result would be a large amount of hydrogen gas, possibly on par with the amount of oxygen created.
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