In a technology-driven era, scientists are always trying to find new and more efficient ways to harness power. The quest places no limits on the imagination. Some ideas are downright wacky, while others are only a little off the mark. In one recent development, researchers may have hit the sweet spot.
In January, a team from Virginia Tech announced it had developed a new battery that runs on sugar. The researchers boast the battery harnesses the electrical potential of a naturally occurring element that is both cheap and plentiful. The only drawback could be that it may drive up prices at the local candy store.
According to Prof. Y. H. Percival Zhang, an associate professor in the Biological Systems Engineering department who led the team, the choice of sugar is almost obvious.
“Sugar is a perfect energy-storage compound in nature. So it’s only logical that we try to harness this natural power,” Zhang said.
The concept of a sugar battery is not new. However, the Virginia Tech researchers claim their version has an energy density an order of magnitude higher than others, making it potentially much longer running.
Zhang and his team constructed a “non-natural synthetic enzymatic pathway” that strips all charge potentials from sugars to generate electricity. The battery acts like a fuel cell, running on low-cost bio-catalyst enzymes instead of expensive platinum, which is common in most batteries. It combines maltodextrin as fuel with air to generate electricity.
The process is nonpolluting and long-lasting. Like fuel cells, the only byproduct is water. The battery can be refueled with more sugar, making it much less likely to end up in landfills.
Zhang expects the battery to be ready for commercial use in cell phones and other consumer devices in as little as three years.