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Sweet success for pioneering hydrogen energy project

Bacteria that can munch through confectionery could be a valuable source of non-polluting energy in the years ahead, new research has shown.

In a feasibility study funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, bioscientists at the University of Birmingham have demonstrated that these bacteria give off hydrogen gas as they consume high-sugar waste produced by the confectionery industry.

The hydrogen has been used to generate clean electricity via a fuel cell1. Looking to the future, it could also be used to power the hydrogen-fuelled road vehicles of tomorrow. There is increasing recognition that, over the coming decades, hydrogen could provide a mainstream source of energy that is a safe, environmentally friendly alternative to fossil fuels.

This was a highly successful laboratory demonstration of bacterial hydrogen production using confectionery waste as a feedstock. The waste was supplied by Birmingham-based international confectionery and beverage company Cadbury Schweppes plc, a partner in the initiative. An economic assessment undertaken by another partner, C-Tech Innovation Ltd, showed that it should be practical to repeat the process on a larger scale.

As well as energy and environmental benefits, the technique could provide the confectionery industry (and potentially other foodstuff manufacturers) with a useful outlet for waste generated by their manufacturing processes. Much of this waste is currently disposed of in landfill sites.

In this project, diluted nougat and caramel waste was introduced into a 5 litre demonstration reactor (although other similar wastes could be used). The bacteria, which the researchers had identified as potentially having the right sugar-consuming, hydrogen-generating properties, were then added.

The bacteria consumed the sugar, producing hydrogen and organic acids; a second type of bacteria was introduced into a second reactor to convert the organic acids in
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Contact: Natasha Richardson
natasha.richardson@epsrc.ac.uk
01-79-344-4404
Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council
23-May-2006


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