Biological Enzymes As Source Of Hydrogen Fuel Discovered By A New Study

Researchers and scientists have come closer to replicate and recreate one of the most efficient production process of nature – that producing hydrogen gas.

This has been achieved by researchers at the University of Illinois (UI) and the University of California and the outcome of the study was posted online in the form of a prèss release on the website of the UI earlier this week.

The basic ingredient that is used by nature to make and burn hydrogen gas is biological enzymes which are known as hydrogenases. There are two variants of these enzymes – iron-iron and nickel-iron, so called because of the elements that are instrumental in causing the chemical reactions that lead to the generation of hydrogen gas. The researchers have said that the iron-iron variety of the hydrogenases was the focus of the study because it generates hydrogen much faster as the reactions are faster.

A general understanding of the chemical composition of the active sites within the enzyme formed the prior basis of the study. The researchers followed a hypothesis that the sites were assembled using 10 parts which include four carbon monoxide molecules, two cyanide ions, two iron ions and two groups of a sulfur-containing amino acid called cysteine.

According to the researchers, the study revealed the likelihood of only two identical groups containing five chemicals comprised the enzyme’s engine that are two carbon monoxide molecules, one cyanide ion, one iron ion and one cysteine group. The groups form one tightly bonded unit, and the two units combine to give the engine a total of 10 parts.

The outcome from the laboratory synthesized enzyme and its analysis has revealed very interesting results, the scientists said.

“Our recipe is incomplete. We now know that 11 bits are required to make the active site engine, not 10, and we are in the hunt for that one final bit,” said chemistry professor and study co-author Thomas Rauchfuss.

And even though the researchers are not sure about what kind of scientific or practical applications this new understanding of the iron-iron hydrogenase enzyme will actually have, they have expressed confidence that the hydrogen fuel industry could take help[ form this discovery. It could enable the industry to play a greater role in the global push toward more environmentally friendly energy sources.

The findings have been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science

(Adapted from

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