A biosystems engineer at Clemson University (South Carolina) is investigating the use of Thermotoga neapolitana—an extremophile bacterium that can produce hydrogen by fermentation—to produce hydrogen from rotten peaches.
The South Carolina Peach Council is funding research by Caye Drapcho and graduate assistant Abhiney Jain. There are more than 200 million pounds of peaches harvested annually in South Carolina—the nation’s second largest peach producer behind California—and approximately 20 million pounds of peaches are discarded yearly, according to the Peach Council. Peach waste has substantial organic value with a high percentage of sugars that can be converted to hydrogen gas by bacteria.
This microbe produces gas byproducts that can contain as much as 80 percent hydrogen, though typically it produces hydrogen in the 25 percent to 30 percent range, which is still impressive.—Caye Drapcho
T. neopolitana is an extremophilic bacterium first isolated and described in 1986 as coming from the vicinity of a black smoker in the bay of Naples, Italy. Although virtually all members of the Thermotogales order had earlier been reported to be anaerobes, recent work done by researchers suggests that most of them can tolerate low levels of oxygen (microaerobes).
This finding is somewhat contended by other research (Eriksen, Nielsen and Inversen) that found that while T. neapolitana tolerates low oxygen conditions, the hydrogen yield was not improved under these microaerobic conditions.
Drapcho has been selected for Sun Grant funding for her work as well.
Niels T. Eriksen, Thomas M. Nielsen and Niels Iversen. Hydrogen production in anaerobic and microaerobic Thermotoga neapolitana Journal Biotechnology LettersVolume 30, Number 1 / January, 2008
S. Van Ooteghem, P. H. Yue, S. Beer. Thermotoga neapolitana: A microaerophile producing hydrogen in the presence of oxygen (NETL)
S. Van Ooteghem, P. H. Yue, S. Beer. Thermotoga neapolitana: An Extremophilic Bacterial Strain for Continuous Hydrogen Generation (NETL)