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Trends Biotechnol. 2010 May;28(5):262-71. doi: 10.1016/j.tibtech.2010.01.007. Epub 2010 Feb 26.

Biological hydrogen production: prospects and challenges.

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Center for Environmental Biotechnology, Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University, P.O. Box 875701, Tempe, AZ 85287-5701, USA.


Hydrogen gas provides exceptional value as an energy carrier and industrial feedstock, but currently is produced entirely by reforming fossil fuels. Biological hydrogen production (BioH(2)), which offers the possibility of being renewable and carbon neutral, can be achieved by photosynthesis, fermentation, and microbial electrolysis cells. This review introduces the principles, advantages and challenges of each approach to BioH(2). Photosynthetic BioH(2) is the ultimate renewable source, since it directly uses inexhaustible resources: sunlight energy and electrons from H(2)O. However, it presents major technical challenges, particularly due to oxygen sensitivity. Fermentative BioH(2) offers a high production rate, but poor conversion efficiency from the organic substrate to H(2). The microbial electrolysis cell can achieve high conversion efficiency, but is an emerging technology.

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