Australian scientists have discovered an enzyme that converts air into energy. The result, published in the journal Nature, shows that this enzyme uses a small amount of hydrogen in the atmosphere to generate electricity. This discovery paves the way for the creation of devices that literally generate energy out of thin air.
The research team, led by Dr. Rhys Grinter, Ph.D. student Ashleigh Kropp and Professor Chris Greening, from the Biomedicine Discovery Institute at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, produced and analyzed a hydrogen-consuming enzyme from a common soil bacterium.
The team’s recent work showed that many bacteria use atmospheric hydrogen as an energy source in nutrient-poor environments.
In this Nature article, researchers extracted the enzyme responsible for using atmospheric hydrogen from the bacterium Mycobacterium smegmatis. This enzyme, called Huc, has shown to convert hydrogen gas into electricity.
Dr. Grinter points out, “Huc is extremely efficient. Unlike all other known enzymes and chemical catalysts, it even consumes subatmospheric hydrogen—0.00005% of the air we breathe.”
The laboratory conducted by Ms. Kropp shows that purified Huc can store for a long time.
“Incredibly stable. The enzyme can freeze or heat to 80 degrees Celsius and retain its energy for energy production,” said Ms. Kropp. “This reflects that this enzyme helps bacteria survive in the harshest environments.”
The Huc is a “natural battery” that generates sustained electricity from the air or added hydrogen. Although this research is in its early stages, Huc’s discovery has significant potential for the development of small air-powered devices, such as an alternative to solar devices.
Enzyme-producing bacteria such as Huc are common and can propagate in large quantities, which means we have access to a sustainable source of the enzyme. According to Dr. Grinter, one of the most important goals of future work is to increase the production of Huc. “Once we produce enough Huc, the sky is literally the limit for producing clean energy.”