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Scientists build caramel-powered margarine-making fuel cell

Cadbury's E. coli hydrogen fermenter

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Scientists from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) have found that waste from confectionery production could be used to produce useful amounts of hydrogen for electricity generation. The feasibility study used sugar-rich waste from a Cadbury's factory to power a fuel cell.

E. coli bacteria in a five litre vessel fermented run-off from nougat and caramel production lines to produce hydrogen. A second culture of Rhodobacter sphaeroides was added to increase the yield of the reaction.

Adding palladium turns what little waste does remain into a useful catalyst that can be used in removing PCB pollutants from the environment, making fuel-cell electrodes, or for hydrogenation for products like margarine.

An assessment by a bioprocesses consultancy said the set-up could be scaled up to produce industrial quantities of carbon-free fuel.

Project leader Lynne Macaskie of Birmingham University said: "Although only at its initial stages, we've demonstrated a hydrogen-producing, waste-reducing technology that, for example, might be scaled up in five to 10 years time for industrial electricity generation and waste treatment."

Work is ongoing by the EPSRC to turn the principles proven in this work into practical generation projects. There's a video of the technology in action here. ®

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