Engineering a solid-state metalloprotein hydrogen evolution catalyst

Sci Rep. 2020 Feb 28;10(1):3774. doi: 10.1038/s41598-020-60730-y.


Hydrogen has the potential to play an important role in decarbonising our energy systems. Crucial to achieving this is the ability to produce clean sources of hydrogen using renewable energy sources. Currently platinum is commonly used as a hydrogen evolution catalyst, however, the scarcity and expense of platinum is driving the need to develop non-platinum-based catalysts. Here we report a protein-based hydrogen evolution catalyst based on a recombinant silk protein from honeybees and a metal macrocycle, cobalt protoporphyrin (CoPPIX). We enhanced the hydrogen evolution activity three fold compared to the unmodified silk protein by varying the coordinating ligands to the metal centre. Finally, to demonstrate the use of our biological catalyst, we built a proton exchange membrane (PEM) water electrolysis cell using CoPPIX-silk as the hydrogen evolution catalyst that is able to produce hydrogen with a 98% Faradaic efficiency. This represents an exciting advance towards allowing protein-based catalysts to be used in electrolysis cells.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bees / chemistry*
  • Bees / genetics
  • Catalysis
  • Hydrogen / chemistry*
  • Insect Proteins / chemistry*
  • Insect Proteins / genetics
  • Metalloproteins / chemistry*
  • Metalloproteins / genetics
  • Protein Engineering
  • Protoporphyrins / chemistry*
  • Protoporphyrins / genetics
  • Recombinant Proteins / chemistry
  • Recombinant Proteins / genetics
  • Silk / chemistry*
  • Silk / genetics


  • Insect Proteins
  • Metalloproteins
  • Protoporphyrins
  • Recombinant Proteins
  • Silk
  • cobaltiprotoporphyrin
  • Hydrogen