Scientists have discovered an enzyme that converts air into electricity

Scientists show that an enzyme called Huc converts hydrogen gas into electric current.

Australian researchers have discovered an enzyme that can convert air into energy.

Australian researchers have discovered an enzyme capable of converting air into energy. The study recently published in the prestigious journal nature, shows that the enzyme uses small amounts of hydrogen in the air to generate an electric current. This breakthrough paves the way for the development of devices that can literally generate power out of thin air.

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

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

In this nature With the paper, the researchers extracted the enzyme responsible for using atmospheric hydrogen from a bacterium called Mycobacterium smear. They showed that this enzyme, called Huc, converts hydrogen gas into electric current.

Dr. Grinter notes that “Huc is extraordinarily efficient. Unlike all other known chemical enzymes and catalysts, it consumes hydrogen below atmospheric levels—less than 0.00005% of the air we breathe.”

The researchers used several cutting-edge methods to reveal the molecular blueprint for atmospheric hydrogen oxidation. They used advanced cryo-EM microscopy (cryo-EM) to determine their atomic structure and electrical pathways, pushing the boundaries to produce the most resolved enzyme structure reported by this method to date. They also used a technique called electrochemistry to demonstrate that the purified enzyme produces electricity at the exact hydrogen concentrations.

Laboratory work by Ms. Krupp shows that it is possible to store purified Huc for long periods.

It’s amazingly stable. The enzyme can be frozen or heated 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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