Could Future Smartphones Be Powered by Sugar?
Published on: 21st Jan 2014
By: David Ng
Could your future smartphone run on sugar cubes Well maybe if a team of researchers at the USA's Virginia Tech can commercialize their latest battery technology.
While other sugar batteries have been developed, this one has an energy density an order of magnitude higher than others, allowing it to run longer before needing to be refueled, Y.H. Percival Zhang, an associate professor of biological systems engineering said.
In as soon as three years, Zhang's new battery could be running some of the myriad of electronic gadgets that require power in our energy-hungry world, he added.
"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."
In this newest development, Zhang and his colleagues constructed a non-natural synthetic enzymatic pathway that strip all charge potentials from the sugar to generate electricity in an enzymatic fuel cell. Then, low-cost biocatalyst enzymes are used as catalyst instead of costly platinum, which is typically used in conventional batteries.
Like all fuel cells, the sugar battery combines fuel - in this case, maltodextrin, a polysaccharide made from partial hydrolysis of starch - with air to generate electricity and water as the main byproducts.
"We are releasing all electron charges stored in the sugar solution slowly step-by-step by using an enzyme cascade," Zhang said.
Different from hydrogen fuel cells and direct methanol fuel cells, the fuel sugar solution is neither explosive nor flammable and has a higher energy storage density. The enzymes and fuels used to build the device are biodegradable.
The battery is also refillable and sugar can be added to it much like filling a printer cartridge with ink.
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