Algae as a fuel source

A Really Green Energy Source: Algae

03:53 PM ET 02/21/00 Algae May Be Key to Hydrogen Fuel

AP Science Writer

   WASHINGTON (AP) _ Hydrogen may be an ideal fuel when the supply
of oil and natural gas runs out, but the problem has been finding a
way to produce it cheaply. Scientists now say the answer may be an
ordinary pond scum.

   Green algae, a simple plant that grows all over the world, has
the unique ability to convert water and sunlight into hydrogen gas,
researchers said Monday at the national meeting of the American
Association for the Advancement of Science.

   Now scientists have found a new way to force the algae to make
hydrogen gas on demand, a process that could lead to an almost
limitless supply of fuel that burns without pollution and produces
only water as a waste product.

   Tasios Melis of the University of California, Berkeley, said
that the algae, one of the most ancient plants known, evolved the
ability to live in two radically different environments.

   When living in ordinary air and sunlight, it uses photosynthesis
like other plants. This process converts sunlight, water and carbon
dioxide into waste oxygen and the life-sustaining chemicals the
plant needs.

   But when the algae is deprived of a key nutrient, sulfur, and
forced to live in an anaerobic, or oxygen-free, environment, the
plant reverts to an alternate life style in order to survive. Under
these conditions, the algae makes hydrogen, said Melis.

   "It is sort of a metabolic switch,'' said Melis. "It is an
alternative way of breathing'' that the plant developed over
millions of years to survive where there is no oxygen or sulfur.
Those same conditions would kill other plants.

   In experiments, Melis said his laboratory first grows algae
cells in the ordinary way, giving the plant sunlight, nutrients and
water. The plant happily reproduces, growing millions upon millions
of new cells.

   Then, the researchers cut off the supply of sulfur and oxygen to
the algae, forcing it to click the metabolic switch to its
hydrogen-producing life style.

   "Within 20 hours, the algae turns on its switch, converting
from oxygen production to hydrogen production,'' said Melis. "We
have to seal the culture to prevent exposure to oxygen. Then we
collect the hydrogen as it bubbles out of the culture.''

   The gas comes out as pure, pollution-free hydrogen, he said.

   Melis said the hydrogen-making process has operated
experimentally for up to four days, the time it takes for the algae
to exhaust its internal resources. The researchers then converted
back to normal photosynthesis and the plant revives itself, ready
to start another cycle.

   "This has the promise of generating fuel from some of nature's
most plentiful resources _ sunlight and water,'' said Melis.

   One liter of algae culture, a little over a quarter of a gallon,
produces three milliliters of hydrogen, about a tenth of a fluid
ounce, per hour, said Melis. Researchers believe this efficiency
can be increased at least 100 fold, but that has yet to be

   Algae growing in a small pond, he said, may eventually be enough
to power 10 cars, although Melis admitted, "I'm not saying how big
the pond would have to be.''

   The algae's alternate life style uses an enzyme, along with
sunlight, to extract hydrogen from water. The enzyme, hydrogenase,
is not found in higher plants. Some researchers are looking at ways
to transfer the gene for this enzyme into other plants and,
possibly, to force the enzyme to work in the presence of oxygen.

   Hydrogen has long been promoted as a fuel to replace fossil
energy sources. In the space program, hydrogen and oxygen are
combined to make a rocket propellant, such as in the main engines
of the space shuttle.

   Oxygen and hydrogen are an explosive mixture, but they can be
combined in a fuel cell to produce electricity and water. Fuel
cells electrify the space shuttle and were used successfully in the
Apollo program.

   Margaret K. Mann of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, a
federal facility in Golden, Colo., said that auto makers are
already developing fuel cells to drive automobiles. Other
researchers, she said, are studying ways of changing the nation's
energy infrastructure _ pipelines, fuel transports and service
stations _ to make use of hydrogen.

   She said it will be at least 20 years before hydrogen becomes a
major part of the energy picture, but the gas could eventually
power the nation, providing a renewable fuel source for both
transportation and electrical generation.

   Right now, hydrogen is most commonly separated from natural gas.
This makes hydrogen a negative in the energy equation, since
natural gas is a cheaper, more efficient fuel.

   Hydrogen may come into its own for environmental reasons, said

   Carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels is the primary
cause of global warming, many believe. The only waste generated
from hydrogen fuel is pure water, a resource that theoretically can
be recycled to produce more hydrogen.

From: Erikson Krauser
Sent: Saturday, August 25, 2001 21 23
Subject: The Algae Experiment

Dear Sir,
I have read your report on algae producing hydrogen in a sulfur and
oxygen deprivred environment. If possible, I wish to know how to simulate
an experiment like this in a school laboratory. I hope you are able to
respond as I am currently beginning to develop an experiment around algae
and would very much like to have this be the basis of my experiment.
                                     Thank you,
                                     Jose Lizama

You responded in regards to my web page

This AP story was written by PAUL RECER

The scientist who created these results is Tasios Melis of the University of California, Berkeley

Searching for "Tasios Melis of the University of California, Berkeley" showed some of his work:

Reference sited was:
Melis A, Zhang L, Forestier M, Ghirardi ML and Seibert M (2000) Sustained photobiological hydrogen gas production upon reversible inactivation of oxygen evolution in the green alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii. Plant Physiology 122 (January 2000 issue) in press

Try your local library for Plant Physiology, if they dont have it, your librarian might be able to get it

Another interesting link returned was:
The California Hydrogen Business Council

Another, more complete version of the article, (showing the original source, although broken) is here:

The Campus News Extras link shows a list of all of their Energy Experts

Including Tasios Melis

Tasios Melis
Professor of plant and microbial biology
Office phone: (510) 642-8166
E-mail: melis@nature.berkeley.edu
Areas of expertise: Using green algae to produce hydrogen, an alternative energy source, from sunlight and water via the natural process of photosynthesis.

And it looks like you can call him at that number, or email him at mailto:melis@nature.berkeley.edu

Good luck in your efforts!


My name is Mike Jones and I came across your website mistrealm.com when searching the web on the topics related to my websites theme, namely algae biofuel and renewable energy in general.

If you'll take a second to look at my site, http://www.algaeoilfuel.com/, you'll see that we've got some great informational articles as well as a blog that covers renewable energy news.

Algae Energy ~ Energy from algae based biofuels has the potential to eliminate dependence on fossil fuels. Learn more at AlgaeOilFuel.com

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