for National Geographic News
Hydrogen may be getting a step closer to becoming a mainstream, renewable fuel.
Researchers have invented a way to harvest protons and electrons from bacteria in a reactor and create small quantities of hydrogen gas.
The process can use any biodegradable organic material, potentially freeing the production of clean-burning hydrogen fuel from its current dependence on nonrenewable energy sources such as natural gas.
"Hydrogen is an excellent transportation fuel, but you've got to make it in a sustainable way," said study author Bruce Logan of Pennsylvania State University.
"We think this is the key method to do that."
Many of the world's transportation systems are being set up to utilize hydrogen, but "almost none is made from electrolysis, and almost none of that is made from renewables," Logan said.
Electrolysis is a process in which an electric current is forced through a cell, sparking a chemical reaction.
"The idea is that this would be renewable technology."
Logan and study author Shaoan Cheng, also of Penn State, developed their new method based on previous work with microbial fuel cells, which generate electricity instead of hydrogen.
The researchers first grew bacteria, derived from soil and wastewater, in compact fuel cells.
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