Moving from an unsustainable, environmentally damaging fossil fuel based chemical industry to a sustainable ‘green’ economy requires the addition of elemental hydrogen, H2, to oxygen-rich plant derived proteins and carbohydrates. Synthesising H2 currently relies on either expensive Pt-based technology or the high temperature reaction of toxic carbon monoxide with water, yielding carbon dioxide as an unwanted side product. Achieving efficient H2 production from water using non-precious metal catalysts is therefore an important scientific challenge which this project will tackle by developing microbes cultured on waste water as electrically-driven H2-producing catalysts. Both technological optimisation and biological mechanisms will be explored.
This project has not been directly successful, the major outcomes for Parkin have been to support a successful Royal Society application and initiate the development of a very fruitful collaboration between Alison Parkin and Green Chemistry (primarily Mike North) that has generated some major findings on CO2-fixation (paper for Nature Chemistry in preparation, joint PhD student starting in September 2016). The technology developed in the H2-production project is what has been used for the CO2 fixation. For Chong the major outcome is to continue to support his track record and output in anaerobic digestion.
Obtain results showing significant and sustainable levels of H2 production through design and use of experimental equipment incorporating large surface area, 3D optimised carbon-microbe electrodes and integration of automated gas-sampling
Optimise temperature and running time
Successful: We had a Biology Undergraduate Summer Student (Roz Latham) work on the project in summer 2014 and followed this with a joint-supervised Biochemistry Project Student (Jessica Munro) over the academic year 2014/15. Between these students, we achieved the scientific objectives above.
Publish results through journal article, going to conferences and meetings with potential industrial partners
Partly successful: The reason that the proposed project has not generated co-authored paper(s) is because we were scooped by Researchers in USA (ISME J. 2014 Aug;8(8):1673-81 Hydrogenase-independent uptake and metabolism of electrons by the archaeon Methanococcus maripaludis Lohner ST, Deutzmann JS, Logan BE, Leigh J, Spormann AM). Although we could not publish work directly from the project, we did present it at a conference (Parkin speaker at 10th International Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technical Conference, 26th and 27th March 2014) and also went to meet potential industrial collaborators MAST Carbon (Parkin and Chong visit to MAST Carbon International Ltd, Basingstoke, 22nd May 2014)
Fund a larger scale project to improve technology via both materials synthesis (industrial partnership needed) and biochemical re-tuning
Partly successful: We applied for £38,803 in a Proof of Concept Grant Application to the BBSRC NIBB Anaerobic Digestion Network, unfortunately this was unsuccessful despite receiving very good comments because Chong's successful IB Catalyst bid was felt to be enough to support future work.