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What is it?

Photosynthetic microbes use sunlight to break down organic matter via fermentation.

Why is it important?

Photo-fermentation could be used for producing hydrogen from wastewater or other organic waste with sunlight as an energy source.


  • Inputs: Organic matter (hydrocarbons), water, sunlight
  • By-products: Carbon dioxide
  • Operating temperature: Ambient
  • Energy efficiency: <10%


  • Low-to-net zero carbon
  • Could be used in wastewater or water which cannot be used for drinking or agriculture
  • Converts organic substrate
  • Nearly complete substrate conversion into biohydrogen
  • Can extract additional hydrogen from dark fermentation effluents


  • Large surface areas required
  • Oxygen inhibits hydrogen production
  • Operation variability depending on solar irradiation supply
  • Less flexible than dark fermentation regarding the type of substrate
  • It is usually necessary to convert complex substrates into a mixture of carboxylic acids and alcohols prior to H2 production by photofermentation

RD&D priorities

  • Develop inexpensive photobioreactors
  • Strain improvement through metabolic engineering
  • Investigate replacement of nitrogenase with hydrogenase enzyme
  • Overcome low hydrogen production rate
  • Overcome low solar-to-hydrogen efficiency
  • Reduce cost of photobioreactors

Known active organisations

  • The Australian National University

Other opportunities like this

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