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Pond life: the future of energy

Hydrogen-producing algae breakthrough

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Genetic engineers have made a leap in developing a strain of algae with the potential to supply fuel for a future hydrogen economy, Wired reports.

Unpublished work from the University of California at Berkeley may have brought the technology past the economically viable 10 per cent efficiency level. By shortening the chlorophyll stacks in the photosynthetic organelles, plant physiologist Tasios Melis has "probably" passed the threshold.

Chlamydomonas reinhardtii cells alternate between trapping carbon dioxide by photosysnesis and hydrogen production.

Research has already ramped-up the rate by a factor of 100,000 by isolating the algae from sulphur, and groups are working to further improve it. One problem is the hydrogenase enzyme, which releases the precious fuel, cannot currently function in the presence of oxygen - but photosynthesis produces oxygen.

It's hoped changing the algal DNA to close pores that allow oxygen in will increase the hydrogen production.

The prospect is of huge desert algae farms supplying the world with a bonanza of cheap, clean energy.

Little surprise then, that ubiquitous bio-entrepeneur Craig Venter has his finger firmly in the pie, with research aimed at polishing the hydrogen molecular pathway itself so it can operate constantly.®

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