Integrating dark and light bio-hydrogen production strategies: towards the hydrogen economy

  • Mark D. RedwoodEmail author
  • Marion Paterson-Beedle
  • Lynne E. Macaskie
Review Paper


Biological methods of hydrogen production are preferable to chemical methods because of the possibility to use sunlight, CO2 and organic wastes as substrates for environmentally benign conversions, under moderate conditions. By combining different microorganisms with different capabilities, the individual strengths of each may be exploited and their weaknesses overcome. Mechanisms of bio-hydrogen production are described and strategies for their integration are discussed. Dual systems can be divided broadly into wholly light-driven systems (with microalgae/cyanobacteria as the 1st stage) and partially light-driven systems (with a dark, fermentative initial reaction). Review and evaluation of published data suggests that the latter type of system holds greater promise for industrial application. This is because the calculated land area required for a wholly light-driven dual system would be too large for either centralised (macro-) or decentralised (micro-) energy generation. The potential contribution to the hydrogen economy of partially light-driven dual systems is overviewed alongside that of other bio-fuels such as bio-methane and bio-ethanol.


Bio-hydrogen Bioenergy Renewable energy Hydrogen economy Dark fermentation Dual systems Photosynthesis 



Adenosine diphosphate


Vegetative cyanobacterial cell accumulating carbohydrate. The main component of filaments, including heterocysts


Anoxygenic photosynthetic bacteria


Adenosine triphosphate


Metabolism with the synthesis of carbohydrate using light and/or inorganic substrates




Pure culture containing only one type of microorganism


Biological oxygen demand the mass of oxygen consumed by microorganisms during the oxidation of organic compounds from a sample of water


Chemical oxygen demand the mass of oxygen consumed during the chemical oxidation of organic compounds from a sample of water


Continuous stirred tank reactor

Direct bio-photolysis

H2 production from water electrons liberated from H2O by photosystem II recombine with H+ to form H2, catalysed by hydrogenase or nitrogenase


Dark fermentation


Dual system combining dark fermentation and photofermentation


Direct methanol fuel cell, a type of PEM-FC using methanol fuel directly without reforming


Dry cell weight


Formate: hydrogen lyase


Microbial growth mode in which ATP is generated only by substrate level phosphorylation in the absence of exogenous electron acceptors (e.g. O2, NO3 , NO2 2−, SO4 2−)


Hydraulic retention time. The total flow rate though a diluted system over its volume

Indirect bio-photolysis

H2 production from water via the photosynthesis and fermentation of carbohydrates


A cyanobacterial cell specialised for N2 fixation


Microbial metabolism utilising organic carbon sources


Higher heating value


Refers to extreme thermophiles most active in the temperature range 80–110°C


Fermentative lactate dehydrogenase

Light conversion efficiency

The percentage of available light energy converted to H2, distinct from photosynthetic efficiency (PE)


Most active in the temperature range 20–40°C


Nicotinamide-adenine dinucleotide

Net energy ratio

The dimensionless ratio of the energy outputs to primary inputs for the entire operational lifetime of a system


Nitrogenase complex (reductase and nitrogenase)


Photosynthetic efficiency. The percentage of photosynthetically active light energy converted to H2 (includes only those wavelengths which interact with photopigments)


Proton exchange membrane fuel cell a type of low-temperature fuel cell considered most suitable for transport applications




Poly-β-hydroxybutyrate, a storage polymer


Light-driven mode of anaerobic metabolism using organic substrates as electron donors


Inorganic phosphate


Pyruvate: formate lyase


Pyruvate: ferredoxin oxidoreductase


Light harvesting proteins


Microbial metabolism using light energy


Microbial metabolism using light energy for the synthesis of carbon sources

PNS bacteria

Purple non-sulfur bacteria


Photosystem I


Photosystem II


The amount of a resource in place (e.g. oil in the ground) that is economically recoverable


Solid oxide fuel cell, a high temperature alkaline fuel cell

SOT medium

Growth medium for cyanobacteria containing salts and trace elements but no carbon source


Most active in the temperature range 40–60°C


Upstream anaerobic sludge blanket reactor



We acknowledge the financial support of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (Grant no. BB/C516128/1 and studentship no. 10703 to MDR), Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (Grant no. EP/E03488/1) and Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Contract no. NTFUN2). LEM was supported by a BBSRC/Royal Society Industrial Fellowship in partnership with C-Tech Innovation Ltd.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mark D. Redwood
    • 1
    Email author
  • Marion Paterson-Beedle
    • 1
  • Lynne E. Macaskie
    • 1
  1. 1.School of BiosciencesUniversity of BirminghamEdgbaston, BirminghamUK

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