Despite impressive progress in diverse sustainable H2 production technologies, none could be firmly implemented in our economy yet. Besides promising electrolytic and/or chemical processes, biological H2 production is an auspicious route towards a sustainable and affordable fuel sector.
Synthetic biology and metabolic engineering techniques have advanced substantially, enabling scientists to design and fine-tune beneficial natural traits. Within this project, we will follow a novel approach to biological H2 production, in that we aim to transfer the H2 metabolism that is naturally present in the chloroplasts of eukaryotic microalgae to their mitochondria. Separating H2 production from photosynthesis will allow the cells to grow photosynthetically during the day, and to employ stored carbon for sustained dark-fermentative H2 production in the night, thereby forming intrinsic H2 storage facilities. With this goal we abandon the idea of photosynthetic H2 production and replace it by a novel concept of photosynthesis-powered but light-independent H2 generation, which will be much more amenable to industrial scale-up.
To achieve this goal, we have formed a team of European (Germany, France, Belgium) and Japanese partners who bring complementary expertise in algal cell biology and genetics, biochemistry and biophysics of the target proteins, and state-of-the-art structural biology.