Homepage » Green Energy » Green fuels » [NREL] New Screening System Detects Algae with Increased H2 Production

[NREL] New Screening System Detects Algae with Increased H2 Production


NREL’s high-throughput screen facilitates the selection of novel H2-producing algae.

Researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have developed a powerful method for screening through million-member algal libraries for strains with increased hydrogen production. Research should read: Closer Look Reveals New Insights on Enzymatic Catalysts for H2 Production.

H2 production

A) NREL’s sensor detects a single H2-producing colony (green dot) in a field of non-H2-producing colonies (shown in red). (B) Details of the boxed area in A. (C) The faint underlying colony in the absence of the sensor signal. (D) Plate showing colonies of microorganisms taken from a local stream that were then screened for their ability to produce H2, shown as green dots in E.

The screen uses H2-sensing bacteria that fluoresce when hydrogen is detected and is used as an agar overlay on top of growing algal colonies. The screen was first verified by comparing algal strains that differentially produce H2 under conditions of high light. Subsequently, the system was used to parse through algal libraries, allowing the selection of a single H2-producing algal colony out of a field of ~10,000 H2 non-producers (see figure below). The system is also useful for screening for H2-producing strains from libraries from natural algal populations.

The long-term objectives of this research are to understand the factors that influence the H2-producing capability of microalgae and to develop practical algal systems for producing H2 via photobiological water splitting, with the H2 harvested directly from the gas phase of the cultures.

This material is based on work supported by the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science, Office of Biological and Environmental Research (BER), Genomic Sciences Program.

Key Research Results


NREL has validated an efficient, high- throughput method of screening for algae strains that produce high levels of hydrogen.

Key Result

This plate-based screen can pinpoint one H2-producing strain out of 10,000 unproductive strains in a single, inexpensive test.

Potential Impact

This tool enables the high-throughput selection of natural and engineered algal strains for H2 production, increasing our capability to develop photobiological H2 as a clean and renewable fuel.

Year: 2014

Technical Contact: Maria Ghirardi, maria.ghirardi@nrel.gov

Reference: Wecker, M.S.A.; Ghirardi, M.L. (2014). “High-Throughput Biosensor Discriminates Between Different Algal H2-Photo-producing Strains.” Biotechnology and Bioengineering. DOI: 10.1002/bit.25206.

Source: NREL

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