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Photobiological Laboratory

Photo of researcher examining a set of algal cultures in vertical glass reactors.

NREL researcher examines bioreactors containing cultures of hydrogen-producing microscopic algae.
Credit: Jack Dempsey.

The Photobiological Laboratory enables NREL's groundbreaking work in photobiological and fermentative production of hydrogen as well as basic research into the photosynthetic process and hydrogen-producing enzymes.

Certain algae and cyanobacteria photoproduce hydrogen for short times as a way to get rid of excess energy before starting the photosynthetic carbon fixation process. NREL researchers use the Photobiological Laboratory for enzyme engineering to block the access of oxygen to hydrogen-producing enzymes in the algae (which can stop the hydrogen production process) and other manipulations of the algae to increase hydrogen production.

Researchers are also developing the ability of other microorganisms to ferment cellulosic biomass to hydrogen.

Photobiological production of hydrogen directly from sunlight and biological production from waste biomass materials have the potential to be among the most cost effective ways to produce hydrogen from renewable energy.

For more information about the photosynthetic process and hydrogen producing enzymes, refer to the biosciences research page on NREL's energy sciences research website. Also, refer to the NREL fact sheets on Photobiological Production of Hydrogen and the Photobiology Research Laboratory.