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Hydrogen from Algae Nanotechnology Solutions . Foothill College Bio-Nano-Info Program. Energy from the Early Earth. Energy Metabolism. Hydrogen Metabolism. H 2 S  2H + S H 2 O  H + OH H 2  2 H + 2e - In photosynthesis (simplified): H 2 0  H + OH + 2e -

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hydrogen from algae nanotechnology solutions

Hydrogen from Algae Nanotechnology Solutions

Foothill College

Bio-Nano-Info Program

hydrogen metabolism
Hydrogen Metabolism
  • H2S  2H + S
  • H2O  H + OH
  • H2  2 H + 2e-

In photosynthesis (simplified):

    • H20  H + OH + 2e-
    • 2H + CO2  CH2O
    • OH + OH  H2O + O
    • 2O + 2e-  O2
  • Biological cleavage of H2 is a common metabolic process in prokaryotes and lower eukaryotes and is catalyzed by two major classes of enzymes the [NiFe]- and the [Fe]-hydrogenases.
  • Three distinct [NiFe]-hydrogenases of Ralstonia eutropha (formerly Alcaligenes eutrophus) are in the center of this project, the regulatory (RH), the NAD-linked (SH) and the membrane-bound (MBH) hydrogenase
fossilized blue green algae
Fossilized Blue Green Algae

These filaments are believed to be the fossilized imprints of blue-green algae, one of the earliest life forms. They occur in the Bitter Springs Formation in Australia and are about 850 million years old. 

green algae at work making h 2
Green Algae at Work Making H2

Algal cell suspension / cells

Thylakoid membrane 

in vitro photo production of h 2
In Vitro Photo-Production of H2

Yellow arrow marks insertion of hydrogenase promoter. Right side exp. optimized for continuous H2 production.

production of h 2 from algae
Production of H2 From Algae


h 2 energy calculations
H2 Energy Calculations

Assumptions were made that 10 micro mole of H2 can be produced per hour

(roughly 50% of peak maximum but extended for an hour) per mg of chlorophyll.

Additionally, a density of 10% of the top 1 cm (or 100% of top mm) of the system would be populated by chlorophyll, for a density of 1 mg chlorophyll per square cm of collector.

This leads to 10,000 cm multiplied by 10 mg chlorophyll per centimeter for a total of 100,000 mg chlorophyll.  Multiplying 100,000 mg chlorophyll by 10 micromole H2 generated per hour per mg chlorophyll yield 1 mole of hydrogen gas per square meter per hour.

Combusting one mole of H2 with one half mole of oxygen (H2 + ½ O2 H2O) yields 286 KJoules or 68 Kcal. Using any of the following conversions yields KWatt hours or watts from this reaction:

1 calorie = 4.184 Joules

1 calorie = 0.0011622 KwHr

1 Joule = 0.0002778 Watt hours

1 K Joule = 0.2778 watts

286 KJoules X 0.2778 Watts / KJoules = 79 Watts

68,355 calories X 0.0011622 KwHr per calories = 79 KwHr

On first pass, it appears that 1 square meter of hydrogen producing algae (modified for continuous hydrogen production) yields about 79 watts, or enough to run a 75 watt light bulb at full power.

ornl project road map
ORNL Project Road Map
  • Year 1- Design and construction of DNA sequence coding for polypeptide proton channel
  • Year 2 - Genetic transfer of hydrogenase promoter-linked polypeptide proton-channel DNA into algal strain DS521
  • Year 3 - Characterization and optimization of the polypeptide proton-channel gene expression
  • Year 4 - Demonstration of efficient and robust production of H2 in designer alga (ready for next phase - scale-up and commercialization)
genetic biochemical engineered h 2 bacterium
Genetic / Biochemical Engineered H2 Bacterium
  • Sequence coding for polypeptide proton channel – create gene for proton pump
  • Genetic transfer of hydrogenase promoter-linked polypeptide proton-channel DNA into algal genome – express pump with H2
  • Characterization and optimization of the polypeptide proton-channel gene expression
proposed engineered h 2 bacterium
Proposed Engineered H2 Bacterium


polypeptide proton channel
Polypeptide Proton Channel
  • Protons that build up from cleavage of H2O into H atoms repress hydrogenase reaction
  • Need to pump hydrogen atoms away from the photosynthetic reaction core, and into storage
  • Hydrogen storage in a carbon nanotube can be the first stage in a nano-structure fuel cell
    • Platinum doped carbon nanotubes might be an integrated device: storage, fuel cell, and battery
membrane bound protein pumps
Membrane Bound Protein Pumps

Proton and ion pumps consume

a lot of cellular energy

Nano-channels could be useful

nanotubes nanohorns
Nanotubes / Nanohorns

The electrical properties of nanotubes / nanohorns can change, depending on their molecular structure. The "armchair" type has the characteristics of a metal; the "zigzag" type has properties that change depending on the tube diameter—a third have the characteristics of a metal and the rest those of a semiconductor; the "spiral" type has the characteristics of a semiconductor.

nanotube properties
Nanotube Properties


hydrogen fuel cell basics
Hydrogen Fuel Cell Basics


hydrogen fuel cell diagrams
Hydrogen Fuel Cell Diagrams

Schematic representation of a

composite electrode for low

temperature fuel cells

Schematic representation of themembrane electrode assembly


  • Hydrogen metabolism is ancient, and highly conserved in hydrogenase / photosynthesis
  • With genetic / biochemical engineering, algae can make H2 in significant amounts
  • Capturing and wicking of H2 into a carbon nanotube fuel cell / battery is very feasible
  • A 1 sq. meter collector could power a 500 watt household with ~ 10X technology gain