free debate

October 6, 2009

More Pond Scum Energy

Back in June, I discussed the potential of getting oil from algae. You can read that article here.

This is sort of a follow-up. While I haven't seen anything new about oil from algae, there is a new potential for gaining an alternative energy from algae. There's an enzyme in green algae that causes the organism to produce hydrogen. However, oxygen attacks this enzyme. Since oxygen is by-product of photosynthesis, it is often in high concentrations near the enzyme. Scientists have used complex electro-kinetic methods and X-ray spectroscopy to learn how oxygen attacks the enzyme, damaging it and shutting off the hydrogen production.

Initially, this sounds like bad news. After all, if the hydrogen production relies on an enzyme that oxygen destroys, but the algae is constantly producing oxygen, it seems unlikely that these algae could be useful as hydrogen factories. However, the team feels that this obstacle is not hard to overcome. Understanding how the oxygen attacks the enzyme allows them to look for more oxygen-resistance enzymes that produce oxygen. It also gives them some idea how to prevent oxygen from attacking the enzyme. While there is a lot more research that needs to go into this technique, it is a promising source of a major alternative energy. Algae has a lot of potential for meeting the needs of our technological world.