Published: Mon, June 19, 2017
World | By Lorena Waters

BIOTECHMIND | Biotechnology for all and for all

BIOTECHMIND | Biotechnology for all and for all

Today, with this entry, begin a series of articles, which I will gradually remove, on bioenergies. Without a doubt, energy production in a totally clean way is one of the most important applications of biotechnology, and it is essential that everyone knows the potential that hides After this branch of research to be able to change, as soon as possible, the current use of the resources of our planet.

Hydrogen will possibly be the fuel of the future. For many reasons represents a very convenient alternative to replace conventional fuels: it is renewable, clean and produces only steam and energy during its combustion. It also has the highest energy content per unit weight, 122-142 kJ / g, compared to any known fuel.

How does biohydrogen occur?

There are several alternatives to produce hydrogen: water electrolysis , the > Thermo-catalytic reforming of fossil fuels and biomass combustion . At present 96% of the hydrogen produced is obtained from the reforming of natural gas (methane) with steam, but this implies the expenditure of a source of non-renewable energy for its production and the emission of harmful gases to the environment.

Methane Reforming Reaction with Steam

Thus, the present need to produce hydrogen of biological origin becomes evident. There are many research teams working on the subject, but the following approaches are the most studied and promising to date.

Biophotolysis of water using algae and cyanobacteria < Strong>

The purpose of this chain is to pass high energy electrons along several membrane proteins and the complexes of Photosystems I and II. Each protein uses part of the energy of the electrons to generate a gradient of protons through said membrane. The protons, in greater concentration on one side of the membrane, will tend to move to the other side following their concentration gradient. The energy of this movement is stored in the form of ATP by a membrane ATPase. At the end of the chain, the electrons bind from the ferredoxin membrane protein to a NADP + molecule that transforms into NADPH.

Biophotolysis consists of the decomposition of water into Hydrogen and oxygen thanks to sunlight and the photosynthetic capacity of algae and cyanobacteria. Two types of hydrogen-producing enzymes are involved in this process: Hydrogenases and Nitrogenases .

Hydrogenases produce H2 using these electrons at the end Of the chain, attaching them to a proton, rather than to NADP +. They catalyze the following reaction, where X represents an electron carrier molecule (usually ferredoxin (Fd)), which is reduced with water as an electron donor by the photochemical reaction of biophotolysis.

Reaction catalyzed by the enzyme hydrogenase

Nitrogenase catalyzes the atmospheric nitrogen fixation reaction, and catalyzes the reduction of protons in a secondary reaction.

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Reactions catalyzed by the enzyme nitrogenase

Some prokaryotic organisms are able to perform a very important process at the ecological level, the fixation of nitrogen . Nitrogen is a fundamental component of all living things and is found in the atmosphere in gaseous form. In order for N2 to be incorporated into the compounds and molecules of an organism, it must first take an organic form.

Photofermentation takes place under anaerobic conditions, and is performed by a group of photosynthetic bacteria ( Purple bacteria) that perform anoxigenic photosynthesis. They are called "purple" because they are phototrophic and capture the energy of light through bacteriochlorophylls and carotenes that give it that color. These phototrophic bacteria do not capture CO2 from the air like green plants, but use a wide variety of organic compounds as a source of carbon, for example fatty acids, sugars and amino acids.

Dark fermentation of organic compounds rich in carbohydrates by anaerobic bacteria

Unlike light photofermentation, dark fermentation takes place independently of light and microorganisms need as a source of carbon glucose, xylose, starch, cellulose or other sources Which can be generated from the hydrolysis of polysaccharides, proteins and lipids.

Reaction produced during dark fermentation, known as the acetate pathway, and in which moles of hydrogen are produced by Mole of glucose consumed.

Dark fermentation is the technique that has been shown to have a greater potential, since, in addition to achieving greater H2 production, it is the easiest to perform technically, the energy requirements are lower, the process economy is more favorable And thus more commercially feasible. However, it has also been proven that a H2 production system in three stages (the three previous systems coupled) increases the performance of each system separately.

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