In a possible breakthrough, a research team from Texas A&M University has modified certain genes in E. coli to make the bacteria capable of producing hydrogen—possibly enough to create the energy to power homes and vehicles in the future. Team leader, Thomas Wood, professor of chemical engineering, spearheaded an effort to delete six of the 5,000 genes from E. coli’s DNA structure, thus enhancing the bacteria’s glucose-conversion abilities. By consuming sugar, the new strain of E. coli is able to generate hydrogen. The bacteria can produce 140 times more hydrogen than is created in naturally occurring processes. The Scientific team plans to amplify this process to an even higher degree.

The bacteria will feed on sugar which comes from a wide variety of biofuels. “A lot of people are working on converting something that you grow into some kind of sugar. We want to take that sugar and make it into hydrogen,” explained Wood. ” We’re going to get some form of sugar-like molecule and use the bacteria to convert that into hydrogen.”

Not only is this process organic, but it could end up being significantly less expensive than the conventional technique of making hydrogen by splitting water. Capturing hydrogen from E. Coli can be done cheaply, because the gas emerges naturally right out of the bacteria. “You just catch the gas as it comes out of the glass. That’s it. You have pure hydrogen.” Another advantage of this process is that hydrogen can be produced on site. This would eliminate the logistical issues of having to transport the gas to points of distribution.

The key to making this process viable for future applications is high efficiency. Wood explained that the current chemistry requires roughly 175 pounds of sugar per day to produce enough hydrogen to power a home for a single day. His goal is to reduce that number to just 17 pounds.