Sweet! Researchers create powerful batteries that run on sugar

Cheap, refillable and biodegradable, these batteries could power smartphones, tablets by 2017

Researchers at Virginia Tech have developed a battery that runs on sugar and could one day replace traditional batteries with ones that are cheaper, refillable and biodegradable.

Other batteries that are powered by sugar have been developed before but scientists say this one has an unmatched energy density, which enables it to run far longer before needing to be refilled.

These new sugar-based batteries could run smartphones, tablets and video games in three years, according to Y.H. Percival Zhang, an associate professor of biological systems engineering at Virginia Tech.

"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."

Creating a stronger, longer-lasting, environmentally friendly battery has been getting a lot of research attention.

The U.S. Department of Energy is in the second year of a five-year, $120-million project to spur scientists to find a way to dramatically extend battery life.

Last fall, researchers at the New Jersey Institute of Technology reported that they had built a flexible battery out of carbon nanotubes that could power everything from tablet computers to electric cars.

Scientists at the University of the West of England, Bristol and the University of Bristol worked together to come up with a potential way to enable robots to operate without a battery at all. They announced this past November that they built a system that will enable robots to function using an unusual source -- urine.

At Virginia Tech, researchers built a non-natural synthetic enzymatic pathway that strips all charge potentials from the sugar to generate electricity in an enzymatic fuel cell. Then, inexpensive biocatalyst enzymes are used as catalysts instead of costly platinum, which is typically used in conventional batteries.

The fuel cells in the new battery would combine the maltodextrin from the sugar with air to generate electricity.

Since the battery is refillable, more sugar can be added to it like filling the gas tank of a car.

This article, Sweet! Researchers create powerful batteries that run on sugar, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

See more by Sharon Gaudin on Computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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