Termite bacteria make hydrogen fuel
Jared Leadbetter at Cal Tech (the nice guy with the cat) studies tropical termite bacteria. Termites, you recall, chew up the wood of trees or houses, which their gut microbes digest for energy. But some termites do more interesting metabolism. Leadbetter was surprised to find that tropical termite guts contain spirochetes, monstrous spiral bacteria (like those that cause syphilis); but these termite spirochetes convert H2 and CO2 into acetate.
But where does the H2 come from? A huge amount of hydrogen gas comes from other bacteria in the termite gut community. These hydrogen-producing bacteria pull hydrogen atoms off of cellulose (from the wood the termites chew) and put the H atoms together as H2. (Why do they do this? The gut has no oxygen to accept the H electrons.) Termite mounds can grow to a mountain, big enough to see from a satellite. That’s an awful lot of hydrogen production. And the US Department of Energy has funded Leadbetter’s grant, “Massively Parallel, Microfluidics-Enabled Single Cell Analysis of Lignocellulose Conversion by Termite Hindgut Microbes.”
Could termite fuels be our next alternative source of fuel?