The quest to simply pull energy out of thin air has borne fruit: an international group of researchers has discovered an enzyme that harnesses atmospheric hydrogen to generate an electrical current.

The enzyme — labeled Huc — was extracted from a soil bacterium called Mycobacterium smegmatis.

Illustration of the Huc enzyme consuming atmospheric hydrogen. Source: Monash UniversityIllustration of the Huc enzyme consuming atmospheric hydrogen. Source: Monash University Advanced microscopy techniques were applied to determine its atomic structure and electrical pathways, and electrochemistry tools were used to demonstrate that the purified enzyme produces electricity at minute hydrogen concentrations.

The bacteria that produce such enzymes are common and can be grown in large quantities to provide a sustainable source of the enzyme. The next step in the quest is to scale up Huc production.

The researchers note, "Once we produce Huc in sufficient quantities, the sky is quite literally the limit for using it to produce clean energy."

Scientists from Monash University (Australia), Uppsala University (Sweden), University of Oxford (U.K.), Freie Universität Berlin (Germany), Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences (Australia), The Ohio State University and University of Otago (New Zealand) contributed to this study, which is published in Nature.

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