Integrated sustainable energy production from food wastes using dual harnessed hydrogenases and novel fuel cell

Lead Research Organisation: University of Dundee
Department Name: School of Life Sciences


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Technical Summary

Hydrogen biomanufacture via fermentation of sugary wastes will be increased by use of an upregulated synthetic hydrogenase-3 mutant of E. coli, further improved by the superimposition of mutations in the twin arginine uptake system (tat) in order to reduce competing hydrogen consumption and also increase the flux into formate as hydrogen precursor. Bio-H2 will be directed into a proton exchange membrane fuel cell to make electricity, and the savings in potential atmospheric burdens c.f. conventional anerobic digestion or combustion will be calculated. PEM fuel cells, although the most efficient, are unattractive because of the cost of the precious metal electrodes. Recovery of Pd/Pt from wastes will be achieved by harnessing the hydrogenase 1 and 2 functions of E. coli, using overproduced enzymes, engineered to channel the electron flow (for reduction of PD(II)/Pt(IV) into the periplasm. The quality of the Bio-Pd(0) depends on the nucleation site (evidence has suggested that this is the hydrogenase enzyme itself), and also the local environment: the hydrogenase enzymes themselves will be targeted towards various cell surface compartment localisations and the effect of these changes on the quality of the recovered metal nanoclusters assessed. Such assessment will entail measurement of ferromagnetism (in order to calculate the nanocluster size, typically about 5 nm) as well as simple catalytic testing (laboratory reactions) as a measure of the efficacy of the biomaterial. The best bio-nano-Pd(0)/Pt(0)s will be used to fabricate fuel cell electrodes (via established processing and fabrication techniques) which will be used in place of commercially supported precious metal catalysts. The bio fuel cells will be substituted in place of the commercial fuel cells in an integrated test rig run on bio-H2. The rig will be run continuously using food processing waste as feedstock and the electricity yield per cubic metre calculated. The savings in greenhouse gas emissions will be calculated using wild-type and recombinant E. coli, and we will also address the hidden economic/environmental savings from reduction in landfill, and use of environmentally-friendly recovery of precious metals into valuable materials from the spent autocatalyst mountain, as domination by the internal combustion engine makes way for H-fuelled transport. These calculations will be made by the industrial partners in the consortium using our data. Joint with BB/C516128/1


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Kelly CL (2015) Integration of an [FeFe]-hydrogenase into the anaerobic metabolism of Escherichia coli. in Biotechnology reports (Amsterdam, Netherlands)

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Redwood MD (2012) Electro-extractive fermentation for efficient biohydrogen production. in Bioresource technology

Description This grant was about generating H2 from engineered bacteria, then using that biohydrogen to recover precious metals from wastes. The project was largely a success (a collaboration between Birmingham and Dundee). We were able to enhance the rate of H2 production by E. coli through genetic engineering. In addition we were able to recover palladium metal (Pd(0)) from Pd(II) wastes using engineered bacteria, then build a fuel cell from the recovered metal.
Exploitation Route Recovered bio-Pd can be used in fuel cells (deminstrated here) and could also be used to make reconditions catalytic converters for the automobile industry.

The University has an effective Research & Innovation Services Team that will be consulted with as appropriate.
Sectors Chemicals,Creative Economy,Electronics,Energy,Environment,Transport

Description Our collaborators at the University of Birmingham have long standing contacts with industry, especially fuel cell manufacturers.
First Year Of Impact 2008
Sector Chemicals,Electronics,Energy
Impact Types Economic

Description Magnificent Microbes 2010 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Interactive stalls and activities.

Pupils and public were asked to complete questionairres after the event - teh feedback was positive.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2010
Description Magnificent Microbes 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact This was a two-day event designed by academics and staged at Dundee Science Centre. Several interactive stalls were set up and these were used to stimulate discussions with the visiting public. The first day involved visits from selected primary schools from the East of Scotland. The second day was open to the general public. The media were invited and many interviews took place.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018