Friday, February 1, 2008

Is E.coli an energy source of the future?

Most people associate E.coli with food poisoning and the resulting product recalls but a professor of the Texas A&M University envisions it as a source of energy in the future which will be able to power our homes and cars.

From EurekAlert:

By genetically modifying the bacteria, Thomas Wood, a professor in the Artie McFerrin Department of Chemical Engineering, has “tweaked” a strain of E. coli so that it produces substantial amounts of hydrogen. Specifically, Wood’s strain produces 140 times more hydrogen than is created in a naturally occurring process, according to an article in “Microbial Biotechnology,” detailing his research.

Though Wood acknowledges that there is still much work to be done before his research translates into any kind of commercial application, his initial success could prove to be a significant stepping stone on the path to the hydrogen-based economy that many believe is in this country’s future.

Renewable, clean and efficient, hydrogen is the key ingredient in fuel-cell technology, which has the potential to power everything from portable electronics to automobiles and even entire power plants. Today, most of the hydrogen produced globally is created by a process known as “cracking water” through which hydrogen is separated from the oxygen. But the process is expensive and requires vast amounts of energy – one of the chief reasons why the technology has yet to catch on.

Wood’s work with E. coli could change that.

While the public may be used to hearing about the very specific strain that can cause food poisoning in humans, most strains are common and harmless, even helping their hosts by preventing other harmful bacteria from taking root in the human intestinal tract.

And the use of E. coli in science is nothing new, having been used in the production of human insulin and in the development of vaccines.

But as a potential energy source?

That’s new territory, and it’s being pioneered by Wood and his colleagues.

Read the rest of the article on EurekAlert


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