Catch up on stories from the past week (and beyond) at the Slashdot story archive

 



Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Biotech Power Science

Hydrogen-Emitting Microbe Examined 192

Concerned Onlooker wrote to mention an article at Science Daily discussing a microbe that lives in volcanic environments, which emits Hydrogen gas as a waste product. "As the world increasingly considers hydrogen as a potential biofuel, technology could benefit from having the genomes of such microbes. 'C. hydrogenoformans is one of the fastest-growing microbes that can convert water and carbon monoxide to hydrogen," remarks TIGR evolutionary biologist Jonathan Eisen, senior author of the PLoS Genetics study. "So if you're interested in making clean fuels, this microbe makes an excellent starting point.'"
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Hydrogen-Emitting Microbe Examined

Comments Filter:
  • Quick question (Score:5, Interesting)

    by penguinoid ( 724646 ) on Monday December 05, 2005 @05:33AM (#14183492) Homepage Journal
    Where does the carbon monoxide come from?
    • Re:Quick question (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 05, 2005 @05:36AM (#14183505)
      Incomplete oxidation of carbon fuels.

      So, while you might be quick to think "we still need to burn fossil fuels to produce this hydrogen", the point is, currently it's a WASTE material.
      And besides, that, Its a nice carbon fixer.

      In theory, these bacteria could be burned to produce more carbon monoxide (of course, that's just speculation, but I assume they're carbon based life forms).
      • OK, I guess that is cool than. I wonder if they can coexist with with the algae they were considering for making biodiesel from?

        Also, you are *speculating* that the bacteria are carbon-based? I'm pretty sure that all life on earth is carbon based. Isn't that the current theory of evolution as well?
        • Re:Quick question (Score:3, Interesting)

          by squoozer ( 730327 )

          Also, you are *speculating* that the bacteria are carbon-based? I'm pretty sure that all life on earth is carbon based. Isn't that the current theory of evolution as well?

          I think it is unlikely we will find squishy life that isn't carbon based simply because carbon is the only atom that can form highly complex molecules (well under extreme pressue silicon can form some fancy stuff but that's really academic). It's not that we haven't looked hard enough it's just plain impossible to form molecules as com

        • Re:Quick question (Score:5, Insightful)

          by shawb ( 16347 ) on Monday December 05, 2005 @07:09AM (#14183726)
          Nope, they can't coexist (at least not function together.) This bacteria requires an anoxic environment, while the algae will release oxygen as a byproduct of photosynthysis.

          That said, I really don't think we can think of chemotrophs (organisms that survive by converting one chemical to another) as a very good energy source. Recreating their environment and feedstocks on an industrial scale would be very energy intensive. In the case of the bacteria in the article, even gathering and purifying the carbon monoxide from emissions of hydrocarbon burning energy plants would be quite energy inefficient. You can probably just forget about collecting the carbon monoxide from a car's tailpipe; it would be a total waste of energy.
      • Re:Quick question (Score:5, Interesting)

        by ArsenneLupin ( 766289 ) on Monday December 05, 2005 @06:07AM (#14183587)
        In theory, these bacteria could be burned to produce more carbon monoxide

        Somehow I doubt that this would produce enough carbon monoxyde to keep the cycle going. You know, perpetuum mobiles and all (laws of physics apply to living creatures too!). Btw, it has already been tried with other critters [snopes.com].

        • It rather obviously won't. However, they could be used as a source of fuel -- if it does not take too much energy to separate the bacteria from the water.
      • Re:Quick question (Score:5, Informative)

        by MillionthMonkey ( 240664 ) on Monday December 05, 2005 @06:39AM (#14183667)
        So, while you might be quick to think "we still need to burn fossil fuels to produce this hydrogen", the point is, currently it's a WASTE material.

        That's in the eye of the beholder. Solid oxide fuel cells can use carbon monoxide as fuel just as well as hydrogen. Carbon monoxide is a fairly energy rich substance. The guy who first prepared it in 1776 by heating ZnO and coke even thought he had made hydrogen because the blue flame it produces is so similar. I don't have numbers for CO and H2 handy, and if I did I'd be too lazy to check, but I'd suspect that burning a mole of CO releases more energy than burning a mole of H2, just by virtue of the fact that this bacterium makes its living converting H2O + CO -> CO2 + H2.

        I assume they're carbon based life forms

        Of course they are. Carbon monoxide is a fairly energy rich substance and is surprisingly inert. It kills you by forming a stable complex with the hemoglobin in your blood. It adheres to binding sites meant for oxygen (cyanide has an even greater affinity) and ruins the entire hemoglobin molecule. Bacteria generally have no use for oxygen binding and transport proteins, and do not use hemoglobin or any other heme-containing protein (except for nitrogen-fixing bacteria), so in general one would not expect them to care about carbon monoxide- although being able to eat it is impressive.
        • Carbon monoxide is a fairly energy rich substance. The guy who first prepared it in 1776 by heating ZnO and coke even thought he had made hydrogen because the blue flame it produces is so similar.

          If I sniffed the smoke of coke and ZnO together, I'm sure I'll be seeing more than a blue flame...

          Disclaimer: I fully know that coke is one of the variants of fuel carbon

      • Re:Quick question (Score:4, Informative)

        by Dr. Cody ( 554864 ) on Monday December 05, 2005 @07:06AM (#14183720)
        In industry, this process is called a water gas shift reaction. This is a *very* mature technology which has been used since the days of gas lighting.

        CO + H20 -> CO2 + H2

        This wouldn't be the first microbe investigated to replace water gas shift reactors, but previous examples would need to come a long way to even approach the economy of the inorganic method.
    • This got marked interesting? The bacteria lives in a sodding volcano... where do you think that the CO [deh.gov.au] comes from?
  • by Mo6eB ( 832959 )
    ...before somebody patents it?
  • by Anonymous Coward
    so... my future car is gonna run off of a bunch of microbes farting? sounds like something out of family guy
  • Excellent! (Score:5, Funny)

    by commodoresloat ( 172735 ) on Monday December 05, 2005 @05:37AM (#14183510)
    Now we can invent cars that run purely on the farts of microbes.
  • Working temperature? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by hunte ( 455338 ) on Monday December 05, 2005 @05:44AM (#14183531) Homepage Journal
    This is a nice job for a microbe, but I don't have see any information about the working temperature that this microbe needs to make the chemical process... Maybe this could be another problem... The volcanic habitat it's very hot (and hard to emulate)...
    • by squoozer ( 730327 ) on Monday December 05, 2005 @06:22AM (#14183625)

      It might live near a volcano. It doesn't live in it! Even the most extreme extremophile is only able to withstand aroudn 120 degC. Nothing like the 700+ found in the heart of volcanos. The environment might be hard to replicate but not because of the temperature. More likely it will be hard to replicate because we probably don't properly understand the chemistry of the bacterias natural environment.

      • 120 deg C? Let me ask, can any life survive without liquid water? Or perhaps this is so deep under the ocean that the pressure raises the boiling point significantly?
        • Correct. There have been a few extremeophiles that have been found living around ocean vents that are capable if living in water over 100 deg C. IIRC some were also found deep down geysers. Bring them to the surface and they die.

        • Or perhaps this is so deep under the ocean that the pressure raises the boiling point significantly?

          Yes, pressure alters the boiling temp a GREAT deal .

          Naval ships use high pressure boilers to make 1,200 lb. steam to run their turbines if they
          are not Gas Turbine ships .

          Ex-MislTech

        • by budgenator ( 254554 ) on Monday December 05, 2005 @11:29AM (#14184997) Journal
          Certainly if by survive you mean supendining metabolic activity, in a bacteria context it's called sporulative form as oppose to spores in fungi which is more of a "seed-like" form. The bacteria in the article are spore orming, When growing conditions aren't right, they form spores and go into a hardened form of bacteria "suspended animation" until conditions improve. Anthrax does this as the article mentions, I've heard of anthrax spores being infective on the order of decades.
    • Most of the CO would probably be coming from a power plant buring coal, Natural Gas, Oil. From there, they can run the output of the plant into a number of "bio reactors". The first one could very well hold this critter as that would have the highest heat. From there, go to work with the CO2 eaters (IIRC algae) that were mentioned about a week ago (or so it seems). They will actually use the CO2 for like a plant but with a quick uptake.
  • by Ihlosi ( 895663 ) on Monday December 05, 2005 @05:48AM (#14183539)
    ... water (H2O) and carbon monoxide (CO) to Hydrogen (H2). What does it do with all the other atoms (one C, two O) ? Let me guess ... it makes carbon dioxide ?


    • Plants get their hydrogen from water -- so I can see getting hydrogen from GM plants as being useful, especially since they are cheap solar cells.

      A current method of getting hydrogen is by passing steam over coal -- basically burning coal in water. I can't imagine it being much different to burn carbon monoxide in water to get steam, but maybe these bacteria do it more efficiently than we can?
    • I'd be careful of anything involving dyhdrogen monoxide.

      Dihydrogen Monoxide is not believed to be carcinogenic, although it is known to be a component of a number of cancer-causing agents. Additionally, the cause of approximately 20 percent of all cancers is not known, and there is reason to suspect that DHMO may play some role in these as well. Clearly, more research is needed before DHMO's role is fully enumerated.

      More information is available from the main website [dhmo.org]
    • by squoozer ( 730327 ) on Monday December 05, 2005 @06:11AM (#14183595)

      This is just a bacterial version of the water-gas shift reaction [wikipedia.org]. What makes people think that a microbe is going to be any more efficient that a big hunk of specially designed plant (sorry for the pun).

      The bacteria might be cheap but it comes with a huge amount of overhead in terms of having to maintain all its cellular functions. I bet half it's energy is wated multiplying.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        I bet half it's energy is wasted multiplying.

        I have the same problem...
      • It requires a catlyst and high temps (700-1100C). The high temp is a lot of energy. I am not a power engineer, but I would be willing to bet that they want the temps from their plumes to be quite a bit lower.
        possible that this bacteria may do the job for a fraction of the price. esp when combined with other processes.
        • Well the great thing about a catalyst is that it's not consumed in the reaction so it shouldn't cost that much. IIRC it is now possible to use iron oxide as the catalyst which is, I think you would agree, pretty cheap. The high temperature is a problem but it's possible to get 85% efficiency [bellona.no]. I would be supprised if the microbe can manage 10%. The heat may not be that much of a problem either. I have seen test steam reformers that run off mirrors (presumably they could also be made to perform the shift reac

      • The bacteria might be cheap but it comes with a huge amount of overhead in terms of having to maintain all its cellular functions. I bet half it's energy is wated multiplying.

        The bacterium gets its energy from converting CO to H2. All the CO it takes in is converted to H2; this is how it "breathes". It uses the excess energy to live and reproduce. After using the energy it comes out as heat, so that it would be no less efficient than burning the CO (as that would directly produce heat). However, maybe t
        • by alba7 ( 100502 )
          All the CO it takes in is converted to H2; this is how it "breathes".

          Nonsense.
          Conversion of carbon or oxygen to hydrogen requires nuclear fission.
          No such life form exists outside science fiction.

    • Mods on crack? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by MaelstromX ( 739241 ) on Monday December 05, 2005 @06:19AM (#14183610)
      No, the article says that the organism intakes CO and H2O and expels H2. This does not mean that a simple reaction occurs with CO and H2O as reactants and H2 as a product.

      From TFA:

      The bug boasts at least five different forms of a protein machine, dubbed carbon monoxide deyhydrogenase, that is able to manipulate the poisonous gas. Each form of the machine appears to allow the organism to use carbon monoxide in a different way. Most other organisms that live on carbon monoxide have only one form of this machine. In other words, while other organisms may have the equivalent of a modest mixing bowl to process their supper of carbon monoxide, this species has a veritable food processor, letting it gorge on a hot spring buffet all day.

      So apparently the CO is acted upon by the proteins, and likely the H2O is used to sustain other life processes in some other way, and the H2 is simply the end result of some metabolic process at the end. If you want to account for the C and the O's, they probably went into forming some protein somewhere.
      • So apparently the CO is acted upon by the proteins, and likely the H2O is used to sustain other life processes in some other way, and the H2 is simply the end result of some metabolic process at the end. If you want to account for the C and the O's, they probably went into forming some protein somewhere.

        No. This is how the bacteria breathes, and almost none of that should end up in its body. CO2 is a gas, it's not useful for forming proteins. True, there's a bunch of obscene chemical processes between ta
        • if CO2 is a gas that's not usefull in making proteins carbohydrates and lipids, please feel free to explain to us why chlorophyllic plants use so much of it?
          • if CO2 is a gas that's not usefull in making proteins carbohydrates and lipids, please feel free to explain to us why chlorophyllic plants use so much of it?

            Plant don't use CO2. They use the C, and give off O2 as waste. And they require energy to do this.
    • uh... it probably eats that dude. Like, H2O + CO = H2 + CO2. So if it EMITS H2, it can't ALSO emit CO2 or else why's it doing all that work? It probably eats CO2. Not that I bother RTFA, but hey, this is slashdot.
  • Eh? (Score:4, Funny)

    by LiquidCoooled ( 634315 ) on Monday December 05, 2005 @05:49AM (#14183543) Homepage Journal
    From the opening of the article:

    Take a pot of scalding water, remove all the oxygen, mix in a bit of poisonous carbon monoxide, and add a pinch of hydrogen gas. It sounds like a recipe for a witch's brew. It may be, but it is also the preferred environment for a microbe known as Carboxydothermus hydrogenoformans.

    If you remove the oxygen, won't you be left with Hydrogen anyway?
  • by www.sorehands.com ( 142825 ) on Monday December 05, 2005 @06:01AM (#14183575) Homepage
    This can be used for another form of Hydrogen Boost for Truckers [typepad.com]. Instead of using electicity and water, it can use water, exaust gas, and microbe. Not only will it further reduce emissions by using them to produce hydrogen.
  • A few questions (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 05, 2005 @06:08AM (#14183590)
    This is very interesting indeed. A low-energy process by which free hydrogen can be produced. But a few questions.

    - The article mentions that oxygens need to be removed from the water; How much energy does this require?
    - In what quantities is the hydrogen produced; What quantities is needed to power a fuel cell?
    - How efficient is this process compared to electrolysis.

    Also it says that the water needs to be boiling in order for the microbes to have optimal conditions; But then of course the energy has to come from somewhere. The water might be heated using solar or wind power i guess. Which brings us back to to the storage problem, and most hydrogen storage solutions(not based on pressure-tanks) require heat to release the hydrogen.
    • Re:A few questions (Score:3, Interesting)

      by WindBourne ( 631190 )
      While I do not know the answer to #1, But I would guess not much.

      As to how efifcient or the quantities, it probably does not matter if if can be used on a waste product. That is, if we use if on the exhaust from a power plant. Then, not only is the power plant cleaning up after itself, but it also has a product to sell.

      As to electrolysis, well, I do know THAT it is every inefficient. Doing a water shift is much cheaper, and more efficient.

      As to the storage, that is a different issue (you have already es
      • As to how efifcient or the quantities, it probably does not matter if if can be used on a waste product. That is, if we use if on the exhaust from a power plant. Then, not only is the power plant cleaning up after itself, but it also has a product to sell.

        An efficient power plant shouldn't have much in the way of CO emissions though. Typical concentrations of CO in a coal power plant flue stream are less than 0.1%, whereas carbon dioxide will probably be more like 15%. It also should be pointed out that

    • Re:A few questions (Score:3, Interesting)

      by penguinoid ( 724646 )
      The article mentions that oxygens need to be removed from the water; How much energy does this require?

      Not much, if any significant portion of the water is converted to hydrogen.

      In what quantities is the hydrogen produced; What quantities is needed to power a fuel cell?

      One molecule of hydrogen for each molecule of carbon monoxite. How much wattage does your fuel cell output?

      How efficient is this process compared to electrolysis.

      Probably more so; however, how efficient is it compared to making hydrogen by b
    • The water might be heated using solar or wind power i guess.

      That really depends. If the input energy required is lower than that which can be obtained from the liberated hydrogen then - after bootstrapping the process with some other source - it can maintain itself with no further energey input. All that happens is that the output is lower than it could have been otherwise.

      Of course, I have no idea whether or not this is the case; just raising it as a possibility.
  • Prior art (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anne Thwacks ( 531696 ) on Monday December 05, 2005 @06:43AM (#14183673)
    Unfortuately, when this gets in to the wild, it mutates into a microbe that eats plastic, and aeoroplanes drop from the sky like stones.

    As described in a 1950's science fiction story.

    • As described in a 1950's science fiction story.

      I would have to dig up the book but I am pretty sure The Andromeda Strain dates from the mid to late 60's at the earliest.

      Of his earlier books, Terminal Man is probably closest to realisation now.

    • Yes, yes, VERY funny. An aquatic anaerobic bacterium that lives in boiling water at volcanic vents and eats carbon monoxide, will suddenly get into the wild (it already was in the wild) but instead decides to live in an oxygen environment in the air below freezing temperatures eating plastic off aluminum airplanes. And do so quickly enough to cause the plane to crash.
      • Presumably those nice GM people (not the car ones) plan to modify something happy to live in your house so you can power your mobile phone with the oxygen. This is what will get (via passenger's clothes) on to planes.

        As to fast enough to make a plane crash, in the original story, whose name I forget, having last read it before jfk was assassinated, it eats the insulation off the wires which is not only fatal, but prevents mayday messages cos the radio needs wires.

        I think the story was written by the same g

  • There is a good 14min broadcast of whats involved with hydrogen as a viable fuel source.
    I believe the question of where to get the hydrogen from is discussed and microbes come up.
    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/sciencenow/3210/01.ht ml [pbs.org]
    • Currently, all our hydrogen comes from fossil fuels. But that's not a problem; hydrogen can be gotten in other ways. Until they can solve the hydrogen storage problem, I don't see hydrogen going anywhere (except through the tank walls). I think that for fuel cells, alcohol or methane would be better. For cars, use biodiesel, which works in unmodified diesel cars, or alcohol, or methane (methane and alcohol can be made from some waste products)
  • by jxm387 ( 936239 ) on Monday December 05, 2005 @07:01AM (#14183714)
    When I worked at Mobil as an engineer (before Exxon swalled them) there was a project working on microbes that consumed CO2 and excreted long chain hydrocarbons that could be used as fuel. Unfortunately they were slow and difficult to control. I imagine that microbes thriving under volcanic conditions would be hard to use commercially, but perhaps the conditions could be replicated in certain settings or the mechanism transplanted into other microbes (any microbiologists want to comment?). The ideas are good but the technology is a long way off!
  • "You fart Helium?"
  • Why oh why do people, who feel they have somethin to tell that involves references to species ALWAYS abbreviate the generic name? How the hell is anybody to guess WTF things like 'E. coli', 'D. radiourans' or other phrases refer to? So what does the 'C' in 'C. hydrogenoformans' mean - assuming that 'hydrogenoformans' shouldn't have been 'hydrogeniformans' as well?

    Names of biological species consist of two parts: the generic name and the specific epithet. Now, since there's significantly more than 1 genus of

    • Why oh why do people, who feel they have somethin to tell that involves references to species ALWAYS abbreviate the generic name? How the hell is anybody to guess WTF things like 'E. coli', 'D. radiourans' or other phrases refer to? So what does the 'C' in 'C. hydrogenoformans' mean - assuming that 'hydrogenoformans' shouldn't have been 'hydrogeniformans' as well?

      Oh, come on. Ever heard of Google? I got "Carboxydothermus hydrogenoformans", plus a bunch of articles on the subject, in about 10 secon

    • Why don't you RTFA? Your question is only answered in the first freakin' paragraph:

      Take a pot of scalding water, remove all the oxygen, mix in a bit of poisonous carbon monoxide, and add a pinch of hydrogen gas. It sounds like a recipe for a witch's brew. It may be, but it is also the preferred environment for a microbe known as Carboxydothermus hydrogenoformans.

      Cue the "you must be new here" remarks in 3... 2... 1...

      Sean

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 05, 2005 @09:06AM (#14184064)
    When you read the article they have these things that look like explanatory hyperlinks to words like 'water', 'research' and 'scientists', but are, instead, commercials tied to the words. What is this called? Whatever it's called, it's VERY IRRITATING. And I wish Slashdot would not use submissions based on web pages that do this. When I am tricked into an advertisement this way I feel like I've crawled into bed with someone who suprises you with both male and female sex organs. It just doesn't seem right to be surprised like that.
  • It smells like that damn microbe again.
  • The funny part is with CO you dont need the hydrogen even, Wood Gas producers like thsose the Europeans (especially Belgians adn Germans used from 1930-1945) are fully sustainable on Just CO,

    Under pressure CO will Burn just like any other "fuel" it requires a slightly advanced timing and higher compression (although not as high as diesel) but it burns fine and will work with current internal combustion engines, the PROBLEM is is nasty stuff to living organisms that depend on OXYGEN.

    Google around for Woo
  • There has been research on hydrogenase enzymes since at least the 70s. I was a student worker in Dr. Leonard Mortenson's lab at the University of Georgia in the late 80s when they were working with Fe-based hydrogenase sequencing.

    Give us a story about moving from the lab to the production line. Bacteria/enzymes that produce hydrogen is nothing new [google.com].
  • So if you have a tank of these bugs that produces 1 liter of H2 / minute, and a tank that produces H2 by electrolysis at 1 liter / minute, which of the two tanks consumes more energy?

    Or is efficiency beside the point?
  • The paper was published in an Open Access journal so you can all browse that if the press release is too basic. Go to http://genetics.plosjournals.org/perlserv/?request =get-document&doi=10.1371/journal.pgen.0010065 [plosjournals.org]
  • So if you're interested in making clean fuels, this microbe makes an excellent starting point.

    Yeah, if you live in a world full of CO. Of course, since CO is a highly toxic gas, you wouldn't actually be "living" there. And CO hardly comes for free since it's combustable as well.

    I'd have found this more interesting if we had toxic CO dumps in need of cleanup.

Where are the calculations that go with a calculated risk?

Working...