Hard-Working Microbes Make Hydrogen At Record Rate

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Bacteria break up fermented plant waste in a microbial electrolysis cell, forming hydrogen

Researchers at Penn State University have coaxed common bacteria to produce hydrogen in a new, efficient way. Using starter material that could theoretically be sourced from a salad bar, the team has charmed bacteria from wastewater into generating abundant, clean hydrogen from cellulose or vinegar with a little zap of electricity. In a table-top reactor, no less.

Other systems produce hydrogen on a larger scale, reports the National Science Foundation, but few if any match the new system for energy efficiency. Even with the small jolt of electricity, the hydrogen provides more energy as fuel than the electricity needed to drive the reactor. The overall efficiency of the vinegar-fueled system is better than 80 percent, far better than the efficiency generating the leading alternative, ethanol. By perfecting the environment for the bacteria to do what they already do in nature, the new approach can be three to ten times more efficient than standard electrolysis.

Good news. And further proof that bacteria are our friends.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones’ environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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