Scientists Develop Battery That Runs On Sugar


Scientists at Virginia Tech have developed a battery that runs on sugar, posing the considered potential that the design may soon replace traditional batteries.

The sugar-powered battery has 10 times the energy storage of lithium. Sugar molecules are energy-dense and easy to transport, as well as there being an abundance of efficient ways to “withdraw” the energy from them. This is one of the reasons sugars are seen so ubiquitously in the living world as a form of energy storage.

The sugar battery could inevitably fuel devices without any toxic by-products and could revolutionize how you power your Smartphone or laptop. This hasn’t been the first attempt to create a sugar-powered batter: research on sugar-powered batteries has been going on for at least 20 years. However, the current model is a higher energy density design which is able to run longer. The model is cheaper, refillable, and biodegradable. Recharging could be as simple as adding more sugar,

“The key idea of this sugar battery is to try to extract all the energy out of the sugar and convert it to electricity,” says Chinese-born scientist, Y.H. Percival Zhang.

The type of sugar that Zhang’s model runs on is maltodextrin, the battery uses enzymes as a catalyst to strip electrons from the maltodextrin and create a current for use in powering electronics. The Virginia Tech University team recently published a report on their research in the latest issue of Nature Communications. The team predicts that their research could be in use within as little as three years.

The battery operates like other types of fuel cell, breaking down a fuel and releasing energy in the process,

“We are releasing all electron charges stored in the sugar solution slowly step-by-step by using an enzyme cascade,” said Zhang.

imageyThe battery is powered by a partially digested starch, which is broken down into a complex sugar called maltodextrin, and then it is further broken down by a chain of 13 enzymes. The process releases significant qualities of electrons, which are used to generate a current and power electronic devices.

In their study, Zhang and his team demonstrate,

“that nearly 24 electrons per glucose unit of maltodextrin can be produced through a synthetic catabolic pathway that comprises 13 enzymes in an air-breathing enzymatic fuel cell. [The] enzymatic fuel cell is based on non-immobilized enzymes that exhibit a maximum power output of 0.8 mW cm−2 and a maximum current density of 6 mA cm−2, which are far higher than the values for systems based on immobilized enzymes. Enzymatic fuel cells containing a 15% (wt/v) maltodextrin solution have an energy-storage density of 596 Ah kg−1, which is one order of magnitude higher than that of lithium-ion batteries. Sugar-powered biobatteries could serve as next-generation green power sources, particularly for portable electronics.”

The cutting-edge safe green batteries are highly desirable consumers, and in the bigger picture environmentally necessary considering our precarious position. So while the price reduction is not as steep as seen with Harvard’s new organic battery, this equally ecofriendly and more portable battery compliments Harvard’s by filling out the niche. There now remains no reason for future electronics to not use eco-friendly batteries, or for us to not take the step of moving onto renewable systems of energy production and storage.

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