Electricity instead of sugar: How bacteria produce chemicals from electrons

Electricity instead of sugar: How bacteria produce chemicals from electrons

The supply of our world with energy is in a state of upheaval – it is worth taking a closer look at what our entire energy management is actually based on: When we eat, switch on the lights, when we heat, drive a car – it’s always about electrons from bonds to loosen, to put in other bonds and to use the energy released in the process.

Compared to fossil fuels, regenerative energy sources radically shorten the path of energy to us. However, we still have our problems with the times when we produce more electricity than we can use or produce less than we need. Batteries or hydrogen as storage systems are being promoted politically and technologically, but they also have the known weaknesses.

The new edition 8/2021 of Technology Review questions more about our brain and whether meditation and mindfulness can really bring calm to everyday life. The magazine will be available from 11/11/2021 in stores and directly in the heise shop. Highlights from the magazine:

A technology star is currently rising in biotechnology, which, although it cannot replace the known storage media, can, in the future, be a clever addition: a small group of researchers looked around among the smallest of us around ten years ago and to date have found around 120 microorganisms that do not feed on sugar, but on electrons. Normally, microorganisms convert sugar with oxygen into CO₂ and use the energy to build molecules.

“The dream that drives us is not sugar, but to be able to use the electricity from a wind power or solar plant with such organisms directly for the synthesis of raw materials – without any detours,” says Miriam Rosenbaum, pioneer of electrobiochemical synthesis from the Leibniz Institute for natural product research in Jena.

More from MIT Technology Review

More from MIT Technology Review

More from MIT Technology Review

More from MIT Technology Review

Research on biological fuel cells shows that this is no nonsense. They work exactly the other way around – the microorganisms do not consume electricity to synthesize substances, but instead feed on high-energy substrates, producing electricity and transferring electrons to electrodes.

Since nature strives for equilibrium, this process should also be reversible, so the idea. The area is booming – this year alone there were over 4,600 publications on the subject of microbial electrosynthesis, research funders are launching programs for electrobiochemistry and the need to no longer just generate but also use CO₂ gives the field additional momentum.

How electrobiosynthesis works, how far it has progressed, where the researchers see the greatest fields of application and why it is not yet possible to buy reactors for “electron eater”, you can read in the current issue 8/2021 of MIT Technology Review (in well-stocked newsagents and available in the heise shop).


(jsc)

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