Dr. Yiftach Yacoby led the team of researchers at Tel Aviv University. Dr. Yiftach Yacoby led the team of researchers at Tel Aviv University. Dr. Yiftach Yacoby led the team of researchers at Tel Aviv University. (Photo: Tel Aviv University)

How algae can power an energy 'revolution'

New discovery could up clean energy production by 400%.

For years scientists have faced one major problem when it comes to developing alternative clean energy: Being able to produce it on a scale that would satisfy the needs of entire populations.

Algae, like you might find on the surface of a lake, is one of those alternative sources. These small aquatic organisms produce hydrogen that can fuel cars and industry, but it was believed that it only produces it in the course of a single microburst at dawn.

It was believed. That's because a team of researchers at Tel Aviv University in Israel led by Dr. Iftach Yacoby, a recent post-doc grad at MIT, have discovered that algae produce hydrogen from photosynthesis all day long.

Researchers believe green algae, seen here floating on the surface of a lake, might just be the answer to our clean energy needs.Researchers believe green algae, seen here floating on the surface of a lake, might just be the answer to our clean energy needs. (Photo: Ihor Bondarenko/Shutterstock)

Tests done by the team revealed that algae create hydrogen with the assistance of the enzyme hydrogenase, which breaks down when oxygen is present. The researchers discovered ways to remove the oxygen so hydrogenase can keep producing hydrogen, upping the production of this clean energy source by 400 percent.

According to the results of the study, the level of hydrogen produced is sufficient to power cars, electric bikes, and eventually meet even greater energy needs.

In the United States some 99% of the hydrogen produced comes from natural gas. But the methods used to draw hydrogen from natural gas are toxic – and wasteful.

"Cultivating energy from agriculture is really the next revolution. There may be other ways to produce hydrogen, but this is the greenest and the only agricultural one," Dr Yacoby said.

Hydrogen fuel can be a highly effective, clean and efficient source of energy. For example, just 11 pounds of hydrogen fuel can take a car more than 310 miles.

The Israeli discovery has potential for global impact, said Yakoby. "Our discovery constitutes an important step toward a revolution: the production of enough clean energy to supply all of our energy needs.

"Our challenge now is to transfer the hydrogen-producing capability of our lab micro-algae to wild micro-algae, so that this function will survive in nature. In other words, we want to domesticate micro-algae and cultivate it for our needs, just as we have cultivated wheat to serve our needs," he said.

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How algae can power an energy 'revolution'
Scientists discover algae produces hydrogen from photosynthesis all day. This could mean increased clean energy production by 400%.