Photo: Fatemeh Khosravitabar

Algae4H2- an efficient and sustainable method for photobiological production of hydrogen

Research project
Active research
Project size
Project period
2022 - 2024
Project owner
Department of Biological and Environmental Science

Short description

H2 is widely known as the future fuel, thanks to a wide range of applications, being the cleanest kind of fuel (since its combustion releases only water as end-product), and having a high energy content. Only 5% of industrially produced H2 comes from clean and renewable resources (water electrolysis), while other procedures use fossil fuels (methane, oil, coal) and are CO2 emitters themselves. Thus, there is need to develop and expand methods for economically viable H2 production with zero-CO2 emission, so called “Green H2 Production. H2 production using photosynthetic organisms such as microalgae could be inherently considered as an affordable and green method. However, there are some biological obstacles faced by sustainability of microalgal H2 photoproduction. We are focusing on addressing these challenges in the present project.

In green microlage hydrogenase enzyme catalyzes the evolution of H2, by receiving electrons and protons from photosynthetic process. But in nature, microalgal H2 photo-production is so transient and stops within a few minutes of illumiation, due to oxygen sensitivity of the hydrogenase enzyme, combined with existing competition between hydrogenases and NADPH-dependent CO2-fixation over photosynthetic electron. In fact, in a fully operative electron transport chain, hydrogenase is outcompeted by the CO2 fixation pathway. Subsequently, molecular O2, generated by photosystem II complex (PSII) inactivates the enzyme.

Many efforts have been ever conducted to cope with the O2 challenge, most of which based on suppressing PSII activity. The dark side of this approach is underestimating the pivotal dual role of PSII in H2 production. Indeed, PSII from one hand leads to deactivation of hydrogenase (by generation of O2), but from the other hand, PSII is the main source of electrons for hydrogenase. Plus, PSII-inhibition causes acute physiological stress and cell death that prevents the re-use of the culture for other valuable algae-derived products and, overall, prevents further industrial scale-up of this process.

The purpose of the current project is to handle the O2 challenge, using an O2-absorbant, instead of preventing its generation. The assumption is that by indirect application of our intended O2-absorbant, combined with down-regulation of electron partitioning toward CO2-fixation pathway, we will achieve a prolonged H2 photo-production in a sustainble and scalable way.


Cornelia Spetea Wiklund, Profesor BioEnv
Fatemeh Khosravitabar, researcher, BioEnv

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Navigate to video: EUTOPIA: Greener future with green microalgae
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EUTOPIA: Greener future with green microalgae

In November 2023, the first EUTOPIA Impact School took place, organized by the Graduate Academy of TU Dresden. Under the motto "Science Communication und Science Slam“, 10 doctoral students and postdocs from all EUTOPIA partner universities received an exclusive training program on the topic of science communication.

During the three-day online workshop, participants had the opportunity to work individually on their scientific texts, give each other feedback and discuss ideas. In addition, they dealed intensively with the format of the science slam and finally created own video pitches to give all interested people an insight into their diverse research projects.

Fatemeh Khosravitabar is a plant physiologist, deeply devoted to interdisciplinary applied research. Her primary focus is on the generation of hydrogen energy (H2) using green microalgae. Since initiating her work in this field during her PhD project in 2017, she has pursued her passion for green H2production with the ultimate goal of progressing step by step towards commercialization.

Read more here!