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UT Knoxville and ORNL researchers turn algae into high-temperature hydrogen source
Date:11/16/2009

KNOXVILLE -- In the quest to make hydrogen as a clean alternative fuel source, researchers have been stymied about how to create usable hydrogen that is clean and sustainable without relying on an intensive, high-energy process that outweighs the benefits of not using petroleum to power vehicles.

New findings from a team of researchers from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, however, show that photosynthesis the process by which plants regenerate using energy from the sun may function as that clean, sustainable source of hydrogen.

The team, led by Barry Bruce, a professor of biochemistry and cellular and molecular biology at UT Knoxville, found that the inner machinery of photosynthesis can be isolated from certain algae and, when coupled with a platinum catalyst, is able to produce a steady supply of hydrogen when exposed to light.

The findings are outlined in this week's issue of the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

Bruce, who serves as the associate director for UT Knoxville's Sustainable Energy and Education Research Center, notes that we already get most of our energy from photosynthesis, albeit indirectly.

The fossil fuels of today were once, millions of years ago, energy-rich plant matter whose growth also was supported by the sun via the process of photosynthesis. There have been efforts to shorten this process, namely through the creation of biomass fuels that harvest plants and covert their hydrocarbons into ethanol or biodiesel.

"Biofuel as many people think of it now -- harvesting plants and converting their woody material into sugars which get distilled into combustible liquids -- probably cannot replace gasoline as a major source of fuel," said Bruce. "We found that our process is more direct and has the potential to create a much larger quantity of fuel using much less energy, which has a wide range of benefits."

A major benefit of Bruce
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Contact: Jay Mayfield
jay.mayfield@tennessee.edu
865-974-9409
University of Tennessee at Knoxville
Source:Eurekalert  

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UT Knoxville and ORNL researchers turn algae into high-temperature hydrogen source
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