It was a relief to find, when I clicked on this article from New Scientist
, that the author had already made the Willy Wonka reference. When you read about researchers feeding caramel to E. coli, and then powering a fuel cell with the excreted hydrogen, it's hard to pass up the image of Oompa-Loompas in coveralls tipping chocolate into the gas tank of a candy car.
The team fed Escherichia coli bacteria diluted caramel and nougat waste. The bacteria consumed the sugar and produced hydrogen, which they make with the enzyme hydrogenase, and organic acids. The researchers then used this hydrogen to power a fuel cell, which generated enough electricity to drive a small fan.
Now, of course, this has the same problem as any other energy source: namely, it takes energy to make caramel and nougat, just like it takes energy to make biodiesel and ethanol. And eventually, at least right now, all our energy comes from oil. But if there really is a significant "waste sweeties" backlog, maybe the Wonka-car is a good candidate for limiting our oil use -- operate our surrealistic fantasy chocolate factories off of oil, and use bacteria-fueled hydrogren cells for things like running people off the roads with our candy-powered SUVs.