Some varieties of algae, a kind of unicellular plant, contain an enzyme called hydrogenase that can create small amounts of hydrogen gas and it is believed that Nature uses the plant as a way to get rid of excess reducing equivalents that are produced under high light conditions, senior researcher David Tiede said in a statement. Dr Tiede and his team are trying to find a way to take the part of the enzyme that creates the gas and introduce it into the photosynthesis process. ''We believe there is a fundamental advantage in looking at the production of hydrogen by photosynthesis as a renewable fuel,'' he said.
Right now, ethanol is being produced from corn, but generating ethanol from corn is a thermodynamically much more inefficient process, he added.
Algae has several benefits over corn in fuel production. It can be grown in a closed system almost anywhere including deserts or even rooftops, and there is no competition for food or fertile soil.
Algae is also easier to harvest because it has no roots or fruit and grows dispersed in water.
Although, the research is in its initial stages, Dr Tiede is confident that the result would be a large amount of hydrogen gas, possibly on par with the amount of oxygen created.
''Biology can do it, but it's making it do it at 5-10 per cent yield that's the problem,'' Dr Tiede said.