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Researchers tout sugar-powered fuel cells

Posted: 28 Mar 2007     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:new sugar battery  sugar fuel cell  fuel cell battery 

Researchers at Saint Louis University in Missouri, U.S.A. have invented a fuel cell battery that runs on sugar and can operate up to four times longer on a single charge than conventional Li-ion batteries.

"This study shows that renewable fuels can be directly employed in batteries at room temperature to lead to more energy-efficient battery technology than metal-based approaches," said study leader Shelley Minteer, an electrochemist at Saint Louis University, in the report. "It demonstrates that by bridging biology and chemistry, we can build a better battery that's also cleaner for the environment," she added.

Like other fuel cells, the sugar battery contains enzymes that convert fuel—in this case, sugar—into electricity, producing water as a main by-product. But unlike other fuel cells, all the materials used to build the sugar battery are biodegradable.

Sugar sources such as glucose, flat sodas, sweetened drink mixes and tree sap were already used to run the battery and have shown promising results. The best fuel source tested so far is ordinary table sugar or sucrose dissolved in water. Meanwhile, carbonated beverages may also be a possible sugar source for the battery, but carbonation seems to weaken the fuel cell, Minteer said.

Other researchers have also developed fuel cell batteries that run on sugar but Minteer claims that her version is the 'longest-lasting' and 'most powerful' to date. If the battery continues to hold promise during further testing and refinement, it can be commercialised in three to five years, she estimated.

The new battery is expected to eventually replace Li-ion batteries in portable electronic apps, including PCs, the scientists say. The military also showed interest in using the battery to charge portable electronic equipment on the battlefield and in emergency situations where access to electricity is limited.

One of the first applications that Minteer eyes for the sugar battery is to use it as portable cell phone chargers. Ideally, these chargers will contain special cartridges, which are pre-filled with a sugar solution and which can be replaced once used up. Minteer hopes that the sugar fuel cell can be used as a stand-alone battery replacement in different portable electronic devices.

According to Minteer, future study for the technology includes modifying the battery's performance for different environmental conditions, such as high temperatures, and extending the battery's life.

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