Within our bodies are specialized proteins called enzymes. These enzymes have the job of performing as catalysts in our everyday lives. A catalyst is something that speeds up a reaction. So in turn an enzyme speeds up bodily reactions, specifically ones of a chemical manner. The specialized proteins convert certain substrates, or reactants, into certain products. This occurs on schedule because the enzyme is capable of vastly reducing the activation energy necessary for such chemical reactions.
Now the idea is to take that ability these enzymes possess and use it to generate electricity. A technique that quite simply mimics how our own bodily cells keep their enzymes contained. This was first successful 2007 in Colorado. Here researchers used bacterial enzymes called hydrogenase to generate energy from successful contact with carbon nanotubes (fullerene molecules with a cylindrical shape). In the future it is hoped that enzymes may become somewhat of a shining beacon to cleanly generated energy.
Another successful biofuel cell energy generation project occurred also in 2007 at Oxford University. Here researchers instead of using carbon nanotubes, had enzymes produce electricity from regular air spiked with bits of hydrogen.
These biofuel cells have their downside of course. They have very low power density for their size and don’t remain functional over an extended period of time. Nevertheless, scientists are finding means to vastly extend the lifetime of the enzymes. Not to mention better improve the proteins ability to fully oxidize fuels. With these improvements, the biofuel cell is then able to better generate energy than either combustion or fermentation and microbial fuel cells, cheaper and far more sustainable than any of those other options.
Another major drawback of the biofuel cell idea is simply interest. Most oil and energy companies don’t wish to change their methods despite the ecological drawbacks of their actions. They would much rather continue doing what they do because that is what brings in the capital, even if it costs the environment. However do you believe that the idea of biofuel will catch on? If you were an energy company owner, would you switch to biofuel knowing how much better it is for the environment? Can you come up with any other little known alternative fuel source? What are some other drawbacks to this idea that you may have come across?