Partnership for Bacteria-Derived Hydrogen

Ever since President George W. Bush announced his hydrogen fuel initiative, the energy carrier has been all-the rage. Through the Department of Energy, the Bush Administration has appeared more interested in producing hydrogen through “clean coal” or nuclear power, but that inclination hasn’t stopped a variety of proposals from making themselves heard.

One of the latest — and decidedly less conventional – methods of producing hydrogen comes from a biotechnology company called Infectech. The Pennsylvania-based company, which predominantly develops diagnostic kits for infectious diseases, is proposing the development of a bioreactor that would use the company’s patented bacterial culturing methods in order to produce hydrogen. And they say they could do so inexpensively. While hydrogen is often referred to as an energy source, it’s more appropriately described as an energy carrier. It doesn’t reliably exist in a pure form anywhere on earth and therefore must be broken from other molecules like oxygen, in the case of water, or carbon, in the case of hydrocarbons like coal or natural gas. Regardless of the raw material, there are inevitable energy conversion inefficiencies and costs to the process. Currently, “cracking” hydrogen from natural gas is the cheapest method. Unfortunately, natural gas prices seem to be heading in only one direction, up. And using natural gas to create hydrogen doesn’t allow for movement away from fossil fuels — which is often the stated goal for the President’s Hydrogen Initiative. Infectech believes they can solve both the cost and fossil fuel issue. With commercialization in mind, the company has signed an agreement for a feasibility study with the Department of Environmental Science and Engineering of Gannon University in Erie, Pennsylvania to develop this bioreactor. The company believes the most likely method for low cost production of massive quantities of hydrogen as an alternate energy source is hydrogen combustion using Clostridia bacteria, which produces hydrogen as a by-product. They might not be the only ones with an interest in producing hydrogen from Clostridia bacteria. “Infectech has ascertained through its patent counsel that there are eleven relevant U.S. patents concerning the database containing the terms ‘Clostridia’ and ‘Hydrogen Production.’ Infectech presently owns five of these eleven issued patents,” the company said in a recent statement. The company is currently researching hydrogen grants made available through the DOE’s Hydrogen Fuel Initiative.