Machine Design

"And a Coke for my cell phone, please."

Someday your cell phone could take the Pepsi Challenge.

Shelley Minteer, an electrochemist at Saint Louis University, fuels her sugar-run battery with POWERade. Photo by Allison Babka/Saint Louis University

Researchers at Saint Louis University in Missouri have developed a battery that runs on virtually any sugar source and could operate three to four times longer on a single charge than conventional lithium-ion batteries. The new battery, which is biodegradable, could eventually replace lithiumion batteries in portable electronics, including computers, the scientists say.

As proof of concept, Shelley Minteer, an electrochemist at Saint Louis University, has used a small prototype of the battery (about the size of a postage stamp) to run a handheld calculator. If the battery continues to show promise, it could be commercialized in three to five years, she estimates.

The military is interested in using the sugar battery in electronic equipment on the battlefield and in emergency situations where access to electricity is limited. Virtually any convenient sugar source could instantly recharge devices such as remote sensors for detecting biological and chemical weapons.

The sugar battery contains enzymes that convert sugar into electricity, leaving water as the main by-product. So far, Minteer has run batteries on glucose, flat sodas, sweetened drink mixes, and tree sap, with promising results. The best fuel source tested so far is ordinary table sugar (sucrose) dissolved in water, she says.

TAGS: Energy Archive
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