Global concerns about climate changes and their association with the use of fossil fuels have accelerated research on biological fuel production. Biological hydrogen production from hemicellulose-containing waste is considered one of the promising avenues. A major economical issue for such a process, however, is the low substrate conversion efficiency. Interestingly, the extreme thermophilic bacterium Caldicellulosiruptor saccharolyticus can produce hydrogen from carbohydrate-rich substrates at yields close to the theoretical maximum of the dark fermentation process (i.e., 4 mol H2/mol hexose). The organism is able to ferment an array of mono-, di- and polysaccharides, and is relatively tolerant to high partial hydrogen pressures, making it a promising candidate for exploitation in a biohydrogen process. The behaviour of this Gram-positive bacterium bears all hallmarks of being adapted to an environment sparse in free sugars, which is further reflected in its low volumetric hydrogen productivity and low osmotolerance. These two properties need to be improved by at least a factor of 10 and 5, respectively, for a cost-effective industrial process. In this review, the physiological characteristics of C. saccharolyticus are analyzed in view of the requirements for an efficient hydrogen cell factory. A special emphasis is put on the tight regulation of hydrogen production in C. saccharolyticus by both redox and energy metabolism. Suggestions for strategies to overcome the current challenges facing the potential use of the organism in hydrogen production are also discussed.
Bibliographical note© 2010 Willquist et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.
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