Issue Date: November 16, 2009
Hydrogen From Vitamin C
Scientists have taken photosynthetic machinery from bacteria and rewired it with a platinum cluster catalyst to create a nanomachine capable of producing hydrogen gas from vitamin C. The light-driven, self-assembling apparatus can pump out H2 for “up to three months without special treatment or chemical preservatives,” notes the research team, led by Barry D. Bruce of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (Nat. Nanotechnol., DOI: 10.1038/nnano.2009.315). The researchers estimate that the system operates at an efficiency equivalent to converting 6% of U.S.-incident solar radiation into usable fuel and could “exceed the best biomass-to-fuel schemes by a factor of 25.” Furthermore, unlike many biomass strategies, the system could be placed in nonarable regions so it doesn’t compete with food production. To make H2, vitamin C (ascorbate) from the bioreactor’s buffered acidic solution is oxidized by means of a thermostable bacterium’s cytochrome c protein. The bacterial photosystem I complex nabs the electrons from cytochrome c, boosts the electrons’ energy level, and passes them on to the platinum catalyst. The catalyst then reduces two H+ ions into H2.
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