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Renewable Energy and Hydrogen Plans

Sep 12, 2008
The move away from our current destructive attitude concerning the environment and towards sustainability is reliant on those scientists, engineers and businesspeople that are willing to spend the time and money on researching into green energy sources.

In other words, the hunt for renewable, or at least cleaner, fuels is one front in the battle against climate change.

The Agricultural Research Service (ARS), an agency of the US Department of Agriculture, has found a hitherto unknown method of producing an energy source that does not create carbon gas emissions.

Hydrogen is a renewable energy source that is already being used by some car manufacturers as an alternative to traditional, environmentally damaging fuels. It is also being used by some homes in Japan as an alternative method of heating their water.A hydrogen cell contains hydrogen and oxygen, and when the two meet heat and water are formed. The Japanese system works by placing a cell holding this reaction next to a standard water system and letting the heat warm up the water.

This new ARS research, which has taken over twenty years to complete, has looked into the potential use of nitrogen-fixing bacteria in creating hydrogen gas. Nitrogen-fixing bacteria are best known for their role in stimulating agricultural growth. Slash-and-burn agricultural practices encourage such bacteria, and once in the soil these little helpers attach to the roots of plants, converting nitrogen into a chemical form that plants use to grow. The ARS research focused on finding a selecting agent that could distinguish between those bacteria that do produce nitrogen gas and those that do not. This process would otherwise require some serious scientific endeavour - namely genetic medication or genomic sequencing, which nobody wants to do.

Once they had these bacteria the ARS scientists found the gene that caused all the hydrogen produced to be released rather than fixed, and from that they created a fuel that can be turned into a green energy.

This is not the first study to suggest that environmentally friendly renewable hydrogen cells may be created from organic matter. Towards the end of last year a study found that certain bacteria that feed on biodegradable organic waste can be encouraged to produce hydrogen gas by letting them come into contact with electricity. Of course, even though the cars running off this type of fuel would not create any green house gases - just water - the actual manufacturing of the fuels, as it requires electricity, would not necessarily be carbon neutral.

Both last years' study, which came out of Penn State University, and this ARS research are similar in that they both suggest that the future of renewable energy might not necessarily come from controversial ethanol biofuels. These biofuels, which were once lauded as our best hope for green, renewable energy, have had trouble in the face of global food shortages, as many people cannot justify producing a fuel on land and from crops that could be used for feeding people.

The hunt for renewable and green energy sources should be seen as one of the most vital scientific endeavours going on right now, and let's hope that the people holding the purse strings in our universities and in our Research and Development departments are spending their money wisely.
About the Author
Martin Gavin is a writer for ecoswitch
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