Highly efficient energy producer


Highly efficient energy producer

Algae are more than Sushi. The research results of the Photobiotechnology group demonstrate it. As hydrogen producer, green algae are of special interest for the team.


Research area of the Photobiotechnology group

The co-initiator of the project SolarBioproducts Ruhr, Prof. Dr. Thomas Happe, together with his team of 20 scientists, investigates fundamental scientific questions about biochemistry, genetics and biotechnology of photosynthetic microorganisms. Here, enzymes and the interaction of different metabolisms of microalgae are of great interest.

Enzymes are proteins, which play an essential role within metabolic pathways of organisms. These so-called biocatalysts manage, control and accelerate chemical reactions, like for example the digestion of humans and animals or the photosynthesis of plants. As part of the human immune system, numerous enzymes also protect the organism against various pathogens.

The biotechnology discipline takes the advantage of enzymes for the application in different research fields. A famous example is the production of cheese. By means of biotechnology the rennet enzyme is used to encourage the curdling of the milk. But also in detergents enzymes do a great job. Biocatalysts like amylase, protease and lipase ensure that the laundry is exempted from starch, proteins and grease even at low temperatures.

The Photobiotechnology group is interested in different enzymes. The team focusses on the production of high value products and hydrogen. Especially the hydrogen-producing enzyme hydrogenase of the green alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii is a highly interesting and promising research field for the scientists.

Advantages of hydrogen and its production by means of microalgae

Hydrogen (chemical: H2) is advantageous, because it does not produce greenhouse gases. The combusting of hydrogen just produces water. Furthermore, H2 from microalgae is a benefit for the climate. For common processes of hydrogen production, like for example the electrolysis, fossil resources such as crude oil, natural gas and coal are used. But algae are a renewable resource and available without any limitation. Additionally, algae absorb the climate-damaging gas carbon dioxide (chemical: CO2) for their growth. Thus making the H2 production by means of algae even more interesting, for example as biofuel. Since algae can be grown in salty water, brackish water and fresh water, as well as in open ponds and closed bioreactors, they do not compete with acreage used for crop plants. For the cultivation of algae, areas can be used, which are not of interest for agriculture, for example deserts.

Hydrogen from microalgae

Already at the end of 1930 a scientist discovered, that, under certain conditions, green algae are able to produce hydrogen. The Photobiotechnology group takes advantage of this fact. By means of semi-artificial chloroplasts, the development of superior algal strains and other innovative research ideas, the team led by Prof. Dr. Thomas Happe was already able to enhance the hydrogen yield. In numerous scientific publications, the group expounded its results and achievements of its bio-based research.



Winkler M, Senger M, Duan J, Esselborn J, Wittkamp F, Hofmann E, Apfel UP, Stripp ST, Happe T (2017): Accumulating the hydride state in the catalytic cycle of [FeFe]-hydrogenases. Nat Commun 8:16115.  doi: 10.1038/NCOMMS16115

Pandey K, Islam ST, Happe T, Armstrong FA (2017): Frequency and potential dependence of reversible electrocatalytic hydrogen interconversion by [FeFe]-hydrogenases. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 114(15):3843-3848.  doi: 10.1073/pnas.1619961114

Sawyer A, Bai Y, Lu Y, Hemschemeier A, Happe T (2017): Compartmentalisation of [FeFe]-hydrogenase maturation in Chlamydomonas reinhardtii. Plant J 90:1134-1143.  doi: 10.1111/tpj.13535

Adam D, Bösche L, Castaneda-Losada L, Winkler M, Apfel UP, Happe T (2016): Sunlight dependent hydrogen production by photosensitizer/hydrogenase systems. ChemSusChem 10(5):894-902.  doi: 10.1002/cssc.201601523

Megarity CF, Esselborn J, Hexter SV, Wittkamp F, Apfel UP, Happe T, Armstrong FA(2016): Electrochemical investigations of the mechanism of assembly of the active-site H-cluster of [FeFe]-hydrogenases. J Am Chem Soc 138(46):15227-15233.  doi: 10.1021/jacs.6b09366

Noth J, Esselborn J, Güldenhaupt J, Brünje A, Sawyer A, Apfel UP, Gerwert K, Hofmann E, Winkler M, Happe T (2016): [FeFe]-Hydrogenase with chalcogenide substitutions at the H-cluster maintains full H2 evolution activity. Angew Chem Int Ed Engl 55:8396-8400.  doi: 10.1002/anie.201511896

Esselborn J, Muraki N, Klein K, Engelbrecht V, Metzler-Nolte N, Apfel UP, Hofmann E, Kurisu G, Happe T(2016): A structural view of synthetic cofactor integration into [FeFe]-hydrogenases. Chem Sci 7:959-968.  doi: 10.1039/C5SC03397G

Rumpel S, Siebel JF , Farès C, Duan J, Reijerse E, Happe T, Lubitz W, Winkler M(2014): Enhancing hydrogen production of microalgae by redirecting electrons from photosystem I to Hydrogenase. Energy Environ Sci 7:3296-3301.  doi:10.1039/C4EE01444h

Esselborn J, Lambertz C, Adamska-Venkatesh A, Simmons T, Berggren G, Noth J, Siebel J, Hemschemeier A, Artero V, Reijerse E, Fontecave M, Lubitz W, Happe T(2013): Spontaneous activation of [FeFe]-hydrogenases by an inorganic [2Fe] active site mimic. Nature Chem Biol 9(10):607-9.  doi:10.1038/nchembio.1311

Berggren G, Adamska A, Lambertz C, Simmons TR, Esselborn J, Atta M, Gambarelli S, Mouesca JM, Reijerse E, Lubitz W, Happe T, Artero V, Fontecave M(2013): Biomimetic assembly and activation of [FeFe]-hydrogenases. Nature 499(7456):66-9.  doi:10.1038/nature12239

Hemschemeier A, Düner M, Casero D, Merchant SS, Winkler M, Happe T(2013): Hypoxic survival requires a 2-on-2 hemoglobin in a process involving nitric oxide. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 110(26):10854-9.  doi:10.1073/pnas.1302592110

More publications:
Photobiotechnologie RUB

Do You Have Questions?

We are happy to answer your questions about Solar Bioproducts Ruhr and algae. Please contact us.