The new hydrogen economy may just be jumpstarted by a very old microorganism that has been garnered from the bowels of a volcano. Virginia Tech has teamed up with the U. S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the Russian Academy of Sciences to develop and refine the hydrogen producing qualities of the billions year old archaea found in the volcanic area of Uzon Caldera, Kamchatka in Siberia.
The archaea, officially named Desulfurococcus fermentans was found create hydrogen unlike its four closest relatives. The new finding of this volcanic microorganism opens the door for scientists to build high-temperature hydrogen production processes based upon breaking down cellulose materials.
The DOE Joint Genome Institute will expedite the process of DNA sequencing upon the archaea process that involves chomping and ingesting cellulose and spitting out hydrogen in large quantities under laboratory conditions. Biswarup Mukhopadhyay from the Virginia Polytechnic Institute will be the chief investigator in this project.
In the past I’ve talked about producing hydrogen organically through the use of algae or bacteria. The volcanic archaea is yet another clean, renewable resource that can be developed to one day produce the volume of hydrogen we will need to power cars in this country. While the critics are talking about the current state that most hydrogen is produced from natural gas, the visionaries are working on methods such as the volcanic archaea to produce what we need cleanly, organically and renewably.