This scientific group, led by professor Rüdiger Schulz-Friedrich, is studying the ability of cyanobacteria and single-cell green algae to produce hydrogen through photosynthesis.
The researchers in Kiel have succeeded in genetically modifying these microorganisms in such a way that the amount of hydrogen released - usually too miniscule for industrial usage - is multiplied.
"We hope that this line of research will one day make an environmentally friendly contribution to the rising demand for hydrogen, using only the renewable resources of sunlight and water," said Dr Schulz-Friedrich, head of the physiology and biotechnology of plant cells research group at Kiel University, who has been active in the field of bio-hydrogen research for more than 10 years.
According to Linde's head of technical press, Stefan Metz, the project fits perfectly into the group's portfolio of hydrogen research projects. "One of the reason we're promoting this scheme is that it promises to produce no emissions - hydrogen is produced purely through photosynthesis," he told FoodProductionDaily.com.
The fact that algae can produce small amounts of hydrogen is nothing new. But what the scientists in Kiel hope is that through genetic modification, hydrogen can be produced in amounts viable for industrial use.
"There are many conceivable applications," said Metz. "Our first concern is how hydrogen could be used as a fuel for fuel cells; this is the background reason behind the project."
But hydrogen could also conceivably be used extensively to power factories and plants in the future, something that could interest food manufacturers. There is a great deal of legislative pressure on plant managers to cut emissions, and this technology could one day provide the answer.
In fact, a hydrogen generation plant for major German confectionery processor Südzucker is currently being built in Offstein. Systems manufacturer Mahler IGS and industrial gas giant Messer Griesheim are carrying out the installation, which is expected to take 13 months.
The company requires hydrogen to meet the increasing demand for the production of Isomalt (Palatinit), an artificial sweetener that is extracted from pure beet sugar by means of a patented process.
Isomalt is mainly used in the production of sugar-free sweets. The plant, which is based on the process of steam reforming from natural gas, will have a capacity of 900 Nm 3 /h hydrogen.
Research into hydrogen power looks set to intensify therefore as manufacturers look for renewable, low-emission forms of power. Dr Wolfgang Reitzle, president of the executive board and chief executive officer of Linde, believes that the scientific project with Kiel, signed for two years, will help secure Germany's status as an innovator, and push Linde's reputation as an expert in hydrogen know-how.
"With this project, we are demonstrating our long-term, sustained commitment to the furtherance of a hydrogen economy: it is essential that we begin actively thinking today about life after oil," he said.
This is a view echoed by Metz. "We started off from natural gas, and from that developed a chain of technologies from the well to the wheel," he said.
"This technology comes before the well. What will there be when there is no natural gas left? We hope to find out."
Linde is an international technology group with a leading market position in each of its two business segments, gas and engineering and material handling. Group sales last year were just short of €9 billion.