Bacteria to Power Engines

With all of the advances in science, you would think you have heard it all. Have you ever heard about bacteria that make fuel for certain engines? It is a reality. There are already many hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. The only problem has been a good source for hydrogen. What about getting bacteria to do it?

Biotechnology for Hydrogen

The majority of commercial hydrogen that is available is derived from non-renewable resources such as fossil fuels. Hydrogen is an excellent, clean-burning, natural fuel but not if it comes from the usual sources. The whole idea of creating clean energy is to reduce the carbon footprint, not boost it blindly.

Cars that run from hydrogen fuel cells can be highly economical in the long run. As it turns out, scientists have managed to engineer a special bacteria to produce much more hydrogen than it normally would and all without harmful by-products that would harm the environment.

The Hydrogen Ceiling Broken

Rudolph Thauer, a biotechnology researcher, proposed in 1977 a ceiling to the amount of hydrogen that any bacteria could produce through the process of sugar fermentation. Examples of such fermentation can be seen with beer, yogurt, and cheese production. The bacteria simply die off at a certain point due to the production of toxic metabolites.

Recently, however, scientists at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln have created a genetically-engineered version of bacteria that manages to produce almost 50% more hydrogen than any other. This is a great boon to the biotechnology fuel industry and very good news for the environment. This could potentially be the cleanest fuel source yet.



It is high time to make as many moves as possible away from fossil fuels. Despite the best efforts with electrical cars, these vehicles are not very popular and still derive power from dangerous power plants, not from renewable energy.

Hydrogen fuel is much more promising. If these new bacteria can be utilized to create consistent hydrogen fuel, then the whole world will have a new, reliable, and affordable source of clean-burning fuel. This may even change the way that power is produced. Think about the possibilities of hydrogen generators and other mechanics that can be powered.


How They Did It

Normally, bacteria like the T. maritima used in the study produce hydrogen at a limited rate. Due to the bacterial genes, there is a point when the breakdown of glucose for energy is shifted into the production of new biological material that is inert. This short-circuits the bacteria’s ability to create more hydrogen.

These scientists disabled a gene involved in this switch of metabolism. It was a success. Now there is a strain of the same bacteria capable of producing 46% more hydrogen per glucose unit. This makes this approach to hydrogen production more practical than any other to date.

Essentially, this means that, along with a proper harnessing system, these bacteria only need sugar to make fuel for vehicles and industries. This is perhaps the best news for the environment, transportation, and industry to date.