Machine Design

Sweet New Battery Runs on Sugar

It may sound like science fiction, but eventually portable electronics could run on virtually any sugar source - from tree sap to soda pop.

Julie Kalista
Online Editor

According to researchers at St. Louis University in Missouri, sugar-powered batteries have the potential to last three or four times longer than lithium ion batteries. Sugar batteries contain enzymes (sugar, in this case) that convert fuel into electricity, with water as the main byproduct. But, unlike other batteries, all the materials used to build sugar batteries are also biodegradable.

Sugar, in the form of glucose, supplies the energy needs of living things. Taking this cue from Mother Nature, scientists have recently learned how to unleash sugar's energy to produce electricity. And, while this is not the first battery to run on sugar, it is the longest-lasting and most powerful to date, according to the team. A prototype, about the size of a postage stamp, has successfully run a handheld calculator.

So far, the team has run batteries on glucose, flat sodas, sweetened drink mixes and tree sap. Although the best fuel source has been ordinary table sugar dissolved in water. Future work includes modifying the battery's performance for varying environmental conditions, such as high temperatures, and extending the life.

Not only would sugar-powered batteries be useful for consumers, but the military is also interested in using them to charge electronic equipment on the battlefield and in emergency situations where access to electricity is limited. Devices could be instantly recharged by adding virtually any convenient sugar source, including plant sap.

More Information:
St. Louis University

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