PowerZyme Inc., a New Jersey-based development company (www.powerzyme.com) working with biotechnology and fuel-cell power systems, has received broad patent coverage for the use of enzymes and other proteins in a fuel cell.

"From microbes to mammals, inside every cell of every animal is a 'powerplant' called the mitochondria that provides energy to the cell," explains Dr. Rose Ritts, chief operating officer of PowerZyme. "Embedded in the wall of the mitochondria is a 'proton-pumping' enzyme that converts mitochondria fuel into energy. We've taken that enzyme and created a fuel cell out of it, bypassing all the platinum catalysts and other paraphernalia required to make small, lightweight fuel cells work. Further, we've also reengineered the enzyme so it can accommodate a wide range of fuels, from methanol to metals."

The advantages of using enzymes for energy, says the company, include energy densities higher than those available from batteries or ordinary fuel cells, longer run times, and automatic load following -- the fuel cell can automatically boost power output rather than generate a constant power level as with ordinary fuel cells. Additionally, enzymes eliminate the need for precious metal catalysts. The entire fuel cell can be made of recyclable plastics and there's no need for venting. The new fuel cells are also said to be ultra lightweight and compact.