Soaring fuel prices have prompted scientists to look at unconventional energy sources that are cheap, abundant and renewable.
And a new study suggests that the common algae could be just such a source.
Although ethanol is currently being derived from corn, researchers at the Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) have dismissed it as a thermodynamically inefficient process.
They are, instead, examining the production of hydrogen by photosynthesis in algae as a renewable fuel, ScienceDaily reported.
Some varieties of algae, a single-celled plant, contain hydrogenase, an enzyme that can create small amounts of hydrogen gas.
Algae have several benefits over corn in fuel production. They can be grown almost anywhere - including deserts or even rooftops - and there is no competition for food or fertile soil.
Algae are also easier to harvest because they have no roots or fruit and grow dispersed in water.
ANL's David Tiede and his group are trying to find a way to take the part of the enzyme that creates the gas and introduce it into the photosynthesis process.
The result would be a large amount of hydrogen gas, possibly on par with the amount of oxygen created.
'Biology can do it, but it's making it do it at five to 10 percent yield that's the problem,' Tiede said.
'What we would like to do is take that catalyst out of hydrogenase and put into the photosynthetic protein framework.