According to the Science mag Nature, the enzyme uses the low amounts of the hydrogen in the atmosphere to create an electrical current and opens the way for devices that literally make energy from thin air.
Dr. Rhys Grinter, Ph.D. student Ashleigh Kropp, and Professor Chris Greening from the Monash University Biomedicine Discovery Institute in Melbourne, Australia, produced and analysed a hydrogen-consuming enzyme from a soil bacteria.
The bacterium called Mycobacterium smegmatis produces an enzyme, called Huc which turns hydrogen gas into an electrical current.
Dr. Grinter notes, "Huc is extraordinarily efficient. Unlike all other known enzymes and chemical catalysts, it even consumes hydrogen below atmospheric levels -- as little as 0.00005% of the air we breathe."
The researchers used several cutting-edge methods to reveal the molecular blueprint of atmospheric hydrogen oxidation. They used advanced microscopy (cryo-EM) to determine its atomic structure and electrical pathways, pushing boundaries to produce the most resolved enzyme structure reported by this method to date. They also used a technique called electrochemistry to demonstrate the purified enzyme creates electricity at minute hydrogen concentrations.
Laboratory work performed by Kropp shows that it is possible to store purified Huc for long periods. "It is astonishingly stable. It is possible to freeze the enzyme or heat it to 80 degrees celsius, and it retains its power to generate energy,"
Kropp said. "This reflects that this enzyme helps bacteria to survive in the most extreme environments. "
Huc is a "natural battery" that produces a sustained electrical current from air or added hydrogen. While this research is at an early stage, the discovery of Huc has considerable potential to develop small air-powered devices, for example as an alternative to solar-powered devices.
"Once we produce Huc in sufficient quantities, the sky is quite literally the limit for using it to produce clean energy."