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Self-organized photosynthetic nanoparticle for cell-free hydrogen production

Nature Nanotechnology volume 5, pages 7379 (2010) | Download Citation



There is considerable interest in making use of solar energy through photosynthesis to create alternative forms of fuel. Here, we show that photosystem I from a thermophilic bacterium and cytochrome-c6 can, in combination with a platinum catalyst, generate a stable supply of hydrogen in vitro upon illumination. The self-organized platinization of the photosystem I nanoparticles allows electron transport from sodium ascorbate to photosystem I via cytochrome-c6 and finally to the platinum catalyst, where hydrogen gas is formed. Our system produces hydrogen at temperatures up to 55 °C and is temporally stable for >85 days with no decrease in hydrogen yield when tested intermittently. The maximum yield is  5.5 µmol H2 h−1 mg−1 chlorophyll and is estimated to be 25-fold greater than current biomass-to-fuel strategies. Future work will further improve this yield by increasing the kinetics of electron transfer, extending the spectral response and replacing the platinum catalyst with a renewable hydrogenase.

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This work was supported by a National Science Foundation (NSF) Nanoscience Interdisciplinary Research Team (NIRT) award to B.D.B. (DBI-0403781) and an NSF Sustainable Science Grant (CBET 0828615) award to P.D.F. and B.D.B. A SARIF Award and Science Alliance Award provided additional support to P.D.F. and B.D.B. The authors would like to acknowledge the technical help of J. Dunlap, A. Godman, C. Pacquet, P. Mahbubani and S. Wright, and also thank G. Alexandre, B. Evans, E. Greenbaum, D. Harrell, L. Johnson and B. Mullin for their input.

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Author notes

    • Ifeyinwa J. Iwuchukwu
    •  & Michael Vaughn

    These authors contributed equally to this work


  1. Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tennessee 37996, USA

    • Ifeyinwa J. Iwuchukwu
    • , Paul Frymier
    •  & Barry D. Bruce
  2. Department of Biochemistry, Cellular and Molecular Biology, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tennessee 37996, USA

    • Michael Vaughn
    • , Hugh O'Neill
    •  & Barry D. Bruce
  3. Department of Microbiology, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tennessee 37996, USA

    • Natalie Myers
    •  & Barry D. Bruce
  4. Chemical Sciences Division, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, Tennessee 37831, USA

    • Hugh O'Neill
  5. Sustainable Energy and Education Research Center (SEERC), University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tennessee 37996, USA

    • Paul Frymier
    •  & Barry D. Bruce


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I.J.I. performed all the hydrogen evolution experiments, provided data analysis and assisted in manuscript preparation. M.V. grew and maintained T. elongatus, isolated and characterized PSI, assisted in cytochrome-c isolation, conducted thermostability measurements, composed all the figures, provided data analysis and manuscript preparation. N.M. cloned and developed the over-expression system for cytochrome-c and provided cytochrome-c for hydrogen evolution experiments. H.O.N. supervised hydrogen evolution experiments, helped coordinate the hydrogen experimentation, and participated in data analysis and manuscript preparation. P.F. coordinated hydrogen evolution experiments, supported I.J.I. and N.M., and participated in data analysis and manuscript preparation. B.D.B. provided overall coordination of the project, supervised the microbiology, molecular biology and biochemistry, provided support for M.V. and N.M., and participated in data analysis and manuscript preparation as corresponding author.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Barry D. Bruce.

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