Biohydrogen: Green fuel of the future

Crude oil production is predicted to peak soon. It is unreasonable to assume that conventional fossil fuel sources will continue to meet society’s increasing energy demands for many more decades to come. Concerns about the limited availability of fossil fuels and their negative impact on the environment have urged the scientific community to seek for alternatives that are renewable and more environmentally benign. Amongst the different alternatives available to substitute fossil fuels, hydrogen appears to be the most promising as it has the highest energy content (143 GJ t-1) and on combustion produces water as the only by product. Despite being the most common and abundant element in the universe, molecular hydrogen must be produced from hydrogen rich feedstocks. With the current available technologies, it can be produced from water, biomass or fossil fuel. However, to get the complete benefit of using hydrogen as a carbon neutral fuel, hydrogen production through the biological route is the most promising. The process is accomplished by using inexpensive cell mass that can convert organic biomass into hydrogen.

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 Abounding microorganisms are known to produce hydrogen. These include the photosynthetic cyanobacteria, green algae and photosynthetic bacteria. These are suitable candidates for solar energy driven biohydrogen production while fermentative bacteria and archaea are considered suitable for fermentative hydrogen evolution using inexpensive organic substrates. The organic substrates may include domestic, farm, agriculture or related industrial wastes that are rich in carbohydrates or peptides. Presently, the disposal of several of these wastes employs expensive procedures. In principle, the use of these wastes for biohydrogen production can solve the twin crisis of waste disposal and green fuel production.

 Pursuing this green cause, Prof Debabrata Das and his team of researchers at the Bioprocess Engineering Laboratory, Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur have been striving for more than a decade to develop inexpensive ways of taking this technology to the industrial scale. As recently published in WIREs Energy and Environment, Khanna and Das, 2012, have holistically described the fermentative biohydrogen production process, including the modeling and optimization of the process for operation in the batch and continuous mode. Further they have discussed the various aspects that presently limit the broad scale application of this technology. However, with continued research efforts and government support the scientists are optimistic that biohydrogen production process would soon transcend from the laboratory to dominate the energy markets of the world.

Khanna N., & Das D. (2012). Biohydrogen production by dark fermentation. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Energy and Environment, 2, 401-421.

WIREs Energy and Environment

Career Planning for Ecologists – Part 4: Enhancing Employability

Continued from Career Planning for Ecologists – Part 3: Analysing Vacancies

Enhancing Employability

Ecologists are in a slightly different position, compared to their lab-based bioscience counterparts, with regard to their job prospects relative to their qualifications. Apart from research and academic posts, many ecology-related careers are as accessible to those with relevant work experience as for Masters or PhD-qualified candidates. In fact, short courses run by organisations such as the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM) (4) offer excellent opportunities to increase much sought-after ecological skills. Having said that, recognized Masters degrees with plenty of practical, industry-relevant content will be an asset to environmental scientists or ecologists looking to enhance their qualifications. Additionally, membership of, or affiliation to, professional associations such as the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA) and CIEEM, as well as being proficient using recognised methodologies, e.g. GIS, BREEAM and project management all increase an ecologist’s chances of gaining employment and accessing more senior positions.

This accumulation of experience can start as early as school and, in particular at University where voluntary placements, internships, membership of local conservation organisations etc. can add very usefully to a graduate’s CV. Short courses and other development opportunities are usually offered at discount prices to student members (e.g. IEEM, Mammal Society) and, of course, membership of learned societies such as the BES and the Society for Experimental Biology offer many benefits including reduced registration to scientific meetings.

 Interested in reading more?

Check out Sarah Blackford’s recently published book Career Planning for Research Bioscientists.



 The above story is reprinted from materials provided by BES Bulletin. The original article was written by author Sarah Blackford.

Image Credit: Liza Shoenfeld,


Career Planning for Ecologists – Part 3: Analysing Vacancies

Continued from Career Planning for Ecologists – Part 2: Accessing the Job Market

Analysing Vacancies

Examining job specifications, rather than skimming job titles and basic job descriptions, will give you more of an insight into what exactly a post involves and whether it might be of interest to you now or in the future. The duties and responsibilities of the Assistant Ecologist are quite basic and this is reflected in the kinds of activities required as well as a lowish salary (not shown). The senior post provides an insight into where the Assistant Ecologist might aspire to progress in future and the experience, qualifications and skills required to reach this level.

This applies to all jobs. If you are a postdoctoral researcher look at fellowship descriptions or lectureship advertisements to determine what you ought to be doing now to position yourself to apply for these higher level posts. If you are looking to broaden your horizons and apply for ecology-related or non-related posts such as communication or project management, you will have to ensure your job exploration keywords are not limiting your job search. Additionally, by examining the job specifications for these careers and/or investigating the profile of those already working in your chosen profession will give you an idea of the experience or qualifications needed to make a career change. This might be done through voluntary work, taking a course or networking (see the next Section: ‘Enhancing Employability’).

Interested in reading more?

Check out Sarah Blackford’s recently published book Career Planning for Research Bioscientists.

The above story is reprinted from materials provided by BES Bulletin. The original article was written by author Sarah Blackford.

Image Credit: AIA Arizona