Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Sweet Promise of Sugar-Powered Batteries

In future, maybe you'll still be taking your coffee black, but you might be grabbing sugar to power your phone.  Researchers at Virginia Tech have developed a battery that runs on sugar, emits only water, is refillable and biodegradable, and has more energy-storage density than lithium ion batteries.

It’s a big set of claims, but not unprecedented. Other sugar batteries have been developed in the past—in 2007, Sony announced that it had developed a sugar-powered “bio battery” that could power a Walkman. That same year, Saint Louis University researchers demonstrated a calculator running off of a postage-stamp sized sugar battery at the American Chemical Society’s annual meeting in Chicago.

But the Virginia Tech researchers, led by Y.H. Percival Zhang, an associate professor of biological systems engineering, say they’ve developed a battery that uses a synthetic 13-enzyme pathway that strips all charge potentials from sugar to generate electricity in an enzymatic fuel cell. According to US News and World Report, Zhang’s battery appears to be the first sugar battery with sufficient energy to, one day, power tablets and smartphones.

As the researchers observed, carbohydrates are, sort of, nature's own battery. "Sugar is a perfect energy storage compound in nature," Zhang said. "So it's only logical that we try to harness this natural power in an environmentally friendly way to produce a battery."
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