Researchers at Virginia Tech have investigated and developed a new battery that uses nature's most common energy storage solution - sugar. The battery produced has a supreme energy density and could eventually replace conventional batteries by being cheaper, biodegradable and refillable.
"Sugar is a perfect energy storage compound in nature," says Y.H. Percival Zhang, associate professor of biological systems engineering at Virginia Tech."So it's only logical that we try to harness this natural power in an environmentally friendly way to produce a battery."
The innovation is based around the use of enzymes. When the battery combines maltodextrin with air, it results in electricity and the by-products of water and hydrogen. "Zhang and his colleagues constructed a non-natural synthetic enzymatic pathway that strips all charge potentials from the sugar to generate electricity in an enzymatic fuel cell. Then, low-cost biocatalyst enzymes are used as catalyst instead of costly platinum, which is typically used in conventional batteries," explain a Virginia Tech press release.
The research is also published in Nature Communications and shows that the team developed a battery with a synthetic catabolic pathway that comprises 13 enzymes in an air-breathing enzymatic fuel cell, capable of a maximum power output of 0.8mW cm−2, a current maximum density of 6mA cm−2 and an energy-storage density of 596 Ah kg−1.
If development goes according to schedule the sugar battery should to be able to become established, as a staple in electronic devices, in as little as three years. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, billions of toxic batteries are thrown away every year in America alone. "Zhang's development could help keep hundreds of thousands of tons of batteries from ending up in landfills."
Ew-rine Powered Mobile Phone
So we get it, scientists are looking into new ways to power electronic devices. Other recent reports inform us that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is investing in a project to produce electricity from the digestion of urine using Microbial Fuel Cells (MFCs).
The project surely gives new meaning to the term "human powered" with scientists meeting the challenge to turn human waste into something useful (other than fertiliser). Although we can't imagine people equipped with catheters, instead of a portable charger, walking in the streets anytime soon, the technology does look like it could be useful for areas of the world where electricity is hard to obtain and if it's implemented on a large scale. Ideas like this are helping bring a carbon neutral and waste neutral future closer.