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Scientists create ‘nano-reactor’ for the production of hydrogen biofuel

Researchers from US-based Indiana University have developed a virus-like biomaterial that catalyses the formation of hydrogen for the production of biofuels.

The biomaterial or ‘nano-reactor’, as scientists at Indiana University describe it, is produced by placing a modified enzyme inside the protective protein shell of a virus, called a capsid.

The resulting ‘nano reactor’ catalyst is 150 times more efficient than the unaltered form of the enzyme.

Essentially, we’ve taken a virus’s ability to self-assemble myriad genetic building blocks and incorporated a very fragile and sensitive enzyme with the remarkable property of taking in protons and spitting out hydrogen gas,” said Trevor Douglas, a chemist at Indiana University.

He added: “The end result is a virus-like particle that behaves the same as a highly sophisticated material that catalyses the production of hydrogen.”

The genetic material used to create the enzyme, hydrogenase, is produced by two genes from the common bacteria Escherichia coli, inserted inside the protective capsid using methods previously developed by these IU scientists. The genes, hyaA and hyaB, are two genes in E. coli that encode key subunits of the hydrogenase enzyme. The capsid comes from the bacterial virus known as bacteriophage P22.

According to the researchers at Indiana University, the resulting biomaterial, called “P22-Hyd,” is not only more efficient than the unaltered enzyme but also is produced through a simple fermentation process at room temperature.

In a statement, the researchers said: “The material is potentially far less expensive and more environmentally friendly to produce than other materials currently used to create fuel cells.”

“The costly and rare metal platinum, for example, is commonly used to catalyse hydrogen as fuel in products such as high-end concept cars.”

“This material is comparable to platinum, except it’s truly renewable,” Douglas explained. “You don’t need to mine it; you can create it at room temperature on a massive scale using fermentation technology; it’s biodegradable. It’s a very green process to make a very high-end sustainable material.”

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