Electricity from Thin Air
Progress in the field of biofuel production is engendering optimism for it could be the most viable solution to our energy woes. Research on biofuel cells aims to create renewable batteries capable of satiating our electricity needs. Presently, biofuel cells use glucose-processing enzymes to produce electricity; however the energy is insignificant when compared to their requirement of a large fuel source. Recently, researchers have considered light and hydrogen as pertinent to the creation of more efficient fuel cells.
Technology has already been developed that utilizes biochemical reactions to create electrical signals for commercial purposes. Unfortunately, a successful biofuel cell, one that discharges sufficient energy for general use, has yet to be fully conceptualized. Mainly due to the limitations of the systems that are the structural base for the interaction of biological molecules and inorganic materials. Scientists still do not have the methods to exert positive control over the interactions.
Leeds research aims to explore the potential of biofuel cells dependent on bacterial enzymes that incorporate light or hydrogen gas in their chemical reactions to release energy. The European Research Council funded the project with a £1.42 million grant.
The internal structure of a Biofuel cell consists of two electrodes, one attracts electrons from a fuel (e.g glucose or hydrogen) while the other sends electrons to oxygen molecules to make water. A wire connects these two to form a circuit, which is necessary for electrical currents.
Leeds project will add two specific groups of enzymes, one inclined towards light and the other, hydrogen, into this basic battery technique. Found in the membranes of chloroplast, segment of cells which conduct photosynthesis – or bacterial cells, both enzymes show promising results.
Researchers are also prepared to test the electrodes on living bacterial cells as the final part of the project. This will help scientists comprehend the function of enzymes in making energy as well as how to exploit the processes in electrical applications.
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