An enzyme from a microbe has shown how to make hydrogen more quickly and more cheaply. Storing and transporting energy as hydrogen is seen as vital to future energy systems. Turning electrical energy into chemical energy and then releasing it again on demand is the key to this process. A major problem though is making this reaction fast and cheap enough to be viable.
Hydrogen can be made from water wherever electricity is available, even at home. And with a fuel cell it can be turned back into electricity, with water as the benign by-product. If the electricity comes from a local renewable source such as a wind farm or array of solar cells, this means clean, independent and portable power that can be stored until needed.
New research published today in Science takes us a step closer to this vision.
Fuel cells need a catalyst to speed up the chemical reactions that change hydrogen into water and electricity. Platinum is very good at this but it is famously expensive and rare. Some microbes, though, have known for a billion years how to make enzymes that can do the job using cheap and abundant nickel and iron. These natural enzymes are unfortunately difficult to obtain and do not do so well outside the microbe.
Now researchers have managed to make a synthetic, toughened-up version.