Thats new territory, and its being pioneered by Wood and his colleagues.
By selectively deleting six specific genes in E. colis DNA, Wood has basically transformed the bacterium into a mini hydrogen-producing factory thats powered by sugar. Scientifically speaking, Wood has enhanced the bacterias naturally occurring glucose-conversion process on a massive scale.
These bacteria have 5,000 genes that enable them to survive environmental changes, Wood explained. When we knock things out, the bacteria become less competitive. We havent given them an ability to do something. They dont gain anything here; they lose. The bacteria that were making are less competitive and less harmful because of whats been removed.
With sugar as its main power source, this strain of E. coli can now take advantage of existing and ever-expanding scientific processes aimed at producing sugar from certain crops, such as corn, Wood said.
A lot of people are working on converting something that you grow into some kind of sugar, Wood explained. We want to take that sugar and make it into hydrogen. Were going to get sugar from some crop somewhere. Were going to get some form of sugar-like molecule and use the bacteria to convert that into hydrogen.
Biological methods such as this (E. coli produce hydrogen through a fermentative process) are likely to reduce energy costs since these processes dont require extensive heating or electricity, Wood said.
One of the most difficult things about chemical engineering is how you get the product, Wood explained. In this case, its very easy because the hydrogen is a gas, and it just bubbles out of the solution. You just catch the gas as it comes out of the glass. Thats it. You have pure hydrogen.
There also are other benefits.
As might be expected, the cost of building an entirely new pipeline to transport hydrogen is a significant deterrent in the utilization of hydrogen-ba
|Contact: Thomas Wood|
Texas A&M University