Middle Park beach in Melbourne is under the international spotlight following a world-first study by Monash University chemists who have discovered how sand “holds its breath”.
Wait, what? And what does this have to do with biofuel?
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Associate Professor Perran Cook and PhD student Michael Bourke, from the Water Studies Centre, School of Chemistry said the discovery has “astonishing implications and potential uses in the biofuels industry”.
You see, sand is full of algae called diatoms – but this environment is mixed about continuously so these organisms might get light one minute, then be buried in the sediment with no oxygen the next.
“This is a new mechanism by which this type of algae survive under these conditions,” said Associate Professor Cook. “Our work has found that they ferment, like yeast ferments sugar to alcohol”.
In this case the product of fermentation are hydrogen and ‘fats’ (like oleate, found in olive oil).
“The finding that hydrogen is a by-product of this metabolism has important implications for the types of bacteria present in the sediment,” said Associate Professor Cook.
“It is well known that bacteria in the sediment can ‘eat’ hydrogen, however, these hydrogen eating bacteria may be more common than we previously thought.”