A version of the Thermotoga maritima bacterium engineered by Raghuveer Singh, Paul Blum and their colleagues produced 46 percent more hydrogen per cell than a naturally occurring form of the same species. The team’s highest reported yield – 5.7 units of hydrogen for every unit of glucose fed to the bacterium – easily surpassed the theoretical limit of 4 units.
The feat represents a breakthrough in the global effort to scale up the sustainable production of clean-burning hydrogen for vehicles and heavy industry, Singh said. Most commercial hydrogen comes from refining non-renewable fossil fuels such as natural gas, oil and coal – processes that generate sizable amounts of carbon dioxide.
“I always had been interested in microbes and their potential to make something useful,” said Singh, a doctoral graduate of Nebraska who conducted the research as part of his dissertation. “The current hydrogen production technologies create a lot of environmental problems. My dream is to improve biological systems and make them more competitive with those technologies.”