Researchers made yeasts brew hydrogen instead of beer

UNIST | Structure of yeasts and catalyst from the biomass

Korean researchers found a new way to upcycle the used-up yeast. According to the study, the once fermenting material would have a new life splitting water.

A UNIST (Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology) research team, led by one of Korea’s ‘National Honor Scientist,’ Prof. Kwang Soo Kim, has successfully synthesized an affordable catalyst material for water-splitting using waste-yeast biomass.

The paper, published in Nature Sustainability on April 6, explained that “Yeast biomass-derived materials—such as multi-heteroatoms (nitrogen, sulfur, and phosphorus) doped carbon (MHC) catalysts from waste biomass—can help develop efficient, eco-friendly and economical catalysts to improve the sustainability of hydrogen production.” As UNIST explains, the waste-yeast abundantly contains elements such as phosphorus, sulfur, and nitrogen.

The team used “ruthenium single atoms (RuSAs) along with Ru nanoparticles (RuNPs) embedded in MHC (RuSAs + RuNPs@MHC) as a cathode and magnetite (Fe3O4) supported on MHC (Fe3O4@MHC) as an anode.” As a result, The RuSAs + RuNPs@MHC cathode outperformed the cutting edge commercial platinum on carbon catalyst in durability, overpotential, exchange current density and Tefal slope. On the other hand, the Fe3O4@MHC anode also outperformed the conventional iridium oxide catalyst in oxygen generation.

UNIST also commented that the system could split water by just being exposed to sunlight without electricity provided from a solar cell.

Professor Kim said the research proposed a new way to utilize spent yeast, which is environmentally friendly, affordable, and easily accessible biomass. Corresponding authors of the research are UNIST’s Senior Research Scientist Jitendra N. Tiwari and Prof. Kwang S. Kim.

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