MAR 23, 2016 8:30 AM PDT

To make hydrogen, start with ‘strange' chemistry

Bacteria have been making hydrogen for billions of years, and now scientists are using radical chemistry in an effort to make hydrogen, too.

In a study published in the journal Science, chemists describe a key step in assembling a hydrogen-generating catalyst.
 
Making hydrogen easily and cheaply is a dream goal for clean, sustainable energy. A group of chemists recently described a key step in the process-perhaps opening ways to imitate them.

“It’s pretty interesting that bacteria can do this,” says David Britt, professor of chemistry at University of California, Davis, and co-author on the paper. “We want to know how nature builds these catalysts—from a chemist’s perspective, these are really strange things.”

The bacterial catalysts are based on precisely organized clusters of iron and sulfur atoms, with side groups of cyanide and carbon monoxide. Those molecules are highly toxic unless properly controlled, Britt notes.

The cyanide and carbon monoxide groups were known to come from the amino acid tyrosine, Britt says.
Jon Kuchenreuther, a postdoctoral researcher in Britt’s laboratory, used a technique called electron paramagnetic resonance to study the structure of the intermediate steps.

They found a series of chemical reactions involving a type of highly reactive enzyme called a radical SAM enzyme. The tyrosine is attached to a cluster of four iron atoms and four sulfur atoms, then cut loose leaving the cyanide and carbon monoxide groups behind.

“People think of radicals as dangerous, but this enzyme directs the radical chemistry, along with the production of normally poisonous CO and CN, along safe and productive pathways,” Britt says.

Kuchenreuther, Britt, and colleagues also used another technique—Fourier Transform Infrared—to study how the iron-cyanide-carbon monoxide complex is formed. That work will be published separately.

“Together, these results show how to make this interesting two-cluster enzyme,” Britt says. “This is unique, new chemistry.”

James Swartz, professor of chemical engineering and bioengineering at Stanford University, contribute to the work, which was supported by grants from the US Department of Energy.

Source: UC Davis

This article was originally published on futurity.org.
About the Author
  • Futurity features the latest discoveries by scientists at top research universities in the US, UK, Canada, Europe, Asia, and Australia. The nonprofit site, which launched in 2009, is supported solely by its university partners (listed below) in an effort to share research news directly with the public.
You May Also Like
JUN 08, 2021
Space & Astronomy
Astrophysicists Discover Origins of First Structures in Milky Way
JUN 08, 2021
Astrophysicists Discover Origins of First Structures in Milky Way
A team of scientists led by the Centre for Astrobiology have discovered that the bulges we see in disc galaxies formed i ...
JUN 11, 2021
Chemistry & Physics
Cutting-edge wearables: the next generation of electronics
JUN 11, 2021
Cutting-edge wearables: the next generation of electronics
New research published in Applied Physics Reviews from AIP Publishing considers the development of flexible supercapacit ...
JUL 23, 2021
Earth & The Environment
It's Very Likely That Clouds Will Make Global Warming Worse
JUL 23, 2021
It's Very Likely That Clouds Will Make Global Warming Worse
For many years scientists have been investigating the role of clouds in global warming. Using satellite measurements to ...
JUL 28, 2021
Earth & The Environment
Melting Arctic Ice Carries High Levels of 'Forever' Chemicals
JUL 28, 2021
Melting Arctic Ice Carries High Levels of 'Forever' Chemicals
Everything in our world, including us, is made up of chemicals. But some of those chemicals are very harmful to the natu ...
AUG 11, 2021
Earth & The Environment
"Code Red:" Inside the IPCC's Newest Climate Report
AUG 11, 2021
"Code Red:" Inside the IPCC's Newest Climate Report
On Monday, August 9th, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the first of their newest set of cl ...
AUG 27, 2021
Space & Astronomy
Researchers Model the Titan Moon in a Tube
AUG 27, 2021
Researchers Model the Titan Moon in a Tube
An image of Saturn's moon Titan on November 11, 1980 during Voyager 1's flyby. Courtesy NASA/JPL-CalTech/Kevin M. Gill
Loading Comments...