Scientists have discovered an enzyme that turns air into electricity

Scientists have demonstrated that an enzyme called Haq converts hydrogen gas into an electric current.

Australian researchers have discovered an enzyme that turns wind into energy.

Australian researchers have discovered an enzyme that turns air into energy. The study was recently published in a prestigious journal Nature, showing that the enzyme uses small amounts of hydrogen in air to generate a current. This breakthrough paves the way for the development of devices that can generate energy from thin air.

The discovery was made by a team of scientists led by Dr. Rhys Grinter, Ashleigh Grob, Ph.D. student, and Professor Chris Greening from Monash University’s Biomedicine Discovery Institute in Melbourne, Australia. The team produced and studied a hydrogen-consuming enzyme derived from a bacteria commonly found in soil.

Recent work by the team has shown that many bacteria use hydrogen from the atmosphere as an energy source in nutrient-poor environments. “We’ve known for some time that bacteria can use hydrogen in the air as an energy source to grow and survive, including in Antarctic soils, volcanic craters and the deep ocean,” Professor Greening said. “But we didn’t know how they did it, until now.”

In this Nature In the paper, the researchers isolated the enzyme responsible for using atmospheric hydrogen from the bacterium. Mycobacterium smegmatis. They showed that this enzyme, called Haq, converts hydrogen gas into an electric current.

Dr. Grinder notes, “Huc is extraordinarily efficient. Unlike all other known enzymes and chemical catalysts, it uses hydrogen below atmospheric levels—only 0.00005% of the air we breathe.”

The researchers used several sophisticated methods to reveal the molecular map of atmospheric hydrogen oxidation. They used state-of-the-art microscopy (cryo-EM) to determine its atomic structure and electrical pathways, pushing the boundaries to produce the most resolved enzyme structure reported to date. They also used a technique called electrochemistry to demonstrate that the purified enzyme produced electricity at minute hydrogen concentrations.

Ms. Laboratory work performed by Kropp showed that purified Huc could be stored for long periods of time.

“It’s surprisingly stable. It’s possible to freeze the enzyme or heat it to 80 degrees.[{” attribute=””>Celsius, and it retains its power to generate energy,” Ms. Kropp said. “This reflects that this enzyme helps bacteria to survive in the most extreme environments.”

Huc is a “natural battery” that produces a sustained electrical current from air or added hydrogen. While this research is at an early stage, the discovery of Huc has considerable potential to develop small air-powered devices, for example as an alternative to solar-powered devices.

The bacteria that produce enzymes like Huc are common and can be grown in large quantities, meaning we have access to a sustainable source of the enzyme. Dr. Grinter says that a key objective for future work is to scale up Huc production. “Once we produce Huc in sufficient quantities, the sky is quite literally the limit for using it to produce clean energy.”

Reference: “Structural basis for bacterial energy extraction from atmospheric hydrogen” by Rhys Grinter, Ashleigh Kropp, Hari Venugopal, Moritz Senger, Jack Badley, Princess R. Cabotaje, Ruyu Jia, Zehui Duan, Ping Huang, Sven T. Stripp, Christopher K. Barlow, Matthew Belousoff, Hannah S. Shafaat, Gregory M. Cook, Ralf B. Schittenhelm, Kylie A. Vincent, Syma Khalid, Gustav Berggren and Chris Greening, 8 March 2023, Nature.
DOI: 10.1038/s41586-023-05781-7 

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