By Allison Rudd on Tue, 22 Jul 2008
University of Otago | News: Dunedin
University of Otago researcher Dr Tina Summerfield examines
bacteria, which could potentially be used to power homes and cars,
multiplying in a temperature-controlled growth room. Photo by
Craig Baxter. Microscopic green bacteria found almost everywhere
could one day be used to power the world, and University of Otago
researcher Dr Tina Summerfield is helping bring that idea closer
The bacteria grow using solar energy, light and carbon dioxide and
produce hydrogen and ethanol, biofuels which are already being
used as power sources.
Researchers around the world are perfecting ways to grow the
bacteria in large enough quantities to produce commercial amounts
Dr Summerfield (37) has received a $264,000 Foundation for
Research, Science and Technology postdoctoral fellowship, enabling
her to spend the next three years recording which of New Zealand's
many varieties of bacteria grow most quickly and best, and which
produce the most amounts of hydrogen or ethanol.
She said yesterday it was too early to say whether bacteria could
be used as a source of clean and renewable energy, but that their
potential was untapped.
"I feel lucky to have been given a grant to study something I
really enjoy, and something which could potentially be really
"The beauty of it is bacteria don't have to be grown on
agricultural land like corn or other crops used to create biofuels
- all you need is clear plastic tubes, light or heat, phosphate
fertiliser and water.
''The water does not have to be clean.
''Some people are experimenting with using grey water from
sewerage treatment plants."
Dr Summerfield is one of 14 researchers awarded fellowships
Each receives $264,000 for a three-year project.
Two other fellowships went to Otago researchers.
Dr Ashton Bradley will return from Australia to work at the
internationally recognised Jack Dodd Centre for Quantum
Technology, carrying out theoretical investigations into some
as-yet uncharted areas of atomic physics.
One of his major roles will be training students in quantum
Dr Christina McGraw will study the impact seawater becoming more
acidic has on marine organisms of economic importance to New
Zealand such as oysters, green-lipped mussels and paua, and those
organisms' abilities to adapt to changing ocean conditions.
The other fellowship recipients were Pascale Michel (Landcare
Research); Hema Nair (University of Canterbury); Gayle Ferguson
and Monica Gerth (Massey University); James Russell (University of
California); Peng Cao (University of Waikato); Jessica Costa, Jim
Lee and Lijuan Zhang (University of Auckland); Lincoln Tubbs
(University of Guelph, Canada); and Nicholas van Panhuys (National
Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, United States).