Energy

Sugar batteries could be greener, cheaper and store more energy than lithium-ions

Sugar batteries could be green...
The batteries, actually mini fuel cells, could be refilled with sugar as needed (Photo: Shutterstock)
The batteries, actually mini fuel cells, could be refilled with sugar as needed (Photo: Shutterstock)
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The batteries, actually mini fuel cells, could be refilled with sugar as needed (Photo: Shutterstock)
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The batteries, actually mini fuel cells, could be refilled with sugar as needed (Photo: Shutterstock)

Even today's best rechargeable lithium batteries do lose their ability to hold a charge after a while, and are considered toxic waste once discarded. In just a few years, however, they may be replaced by batteries that are refillable and biodegradable, and that will also have a higher energy density yet a lower price ... and they'll run on sugar.

"Sugar is a perfect energy storage compound in nature," says Virginia Tech's Prof. Y.H. Percival Zhang, who is leading the research. "So it's only logical that we try to harness this natural power in an environmentally friendly way to produce a battery."

Zhang's isn't the first experimental sugar battery, although he claims that its energy density is "an order of magnitude higher than others."

It's actually a type of enzymatic fuel cell. For fuel, it utilizes maltodextrin, which is a polysaccharide made from the hydrolysis of starch (polysaccharides are chains of sugars). The catalyst in its anode is made from inexpensive enzymes, as opposed to the costly platinum that's used in regular batteries.

When the maltodextrin is combined with air, water and electricity are produced. Unlike the case with a hydrogen fuel cell, however, the sugar battery is non-explosive and non-flammable.

Zhang envisions users refilling the batteries with sugar when they need refueling, "much like filling a printer cartridge with ink." He hopes that they may be powering electronic devices in as little as three years.

A paper on his research was published today in the journal Nature Communications.

Source: Virginia Tech

41 comments
Bob Ehresman
Sweet!
Anne Ominous
It is not clear, but from the way this is worded, I get the impression that these are non-rechargeable (in the common sense, as opposed to "refillable")?
Even if they are not, the energy density is impressive. But it would be even better, of course, if they were rechargeable.
Gadgeteer
@Anne Ominous,
It's a fuel cell, not a battery. It's "rechargeable" in that it's refillable. As a bonus, you can refill a fuel cell or fuel tank a lot faster than charging any battery.
byrneheart
What is the waste byproduct from this energy production? When you refill it what comes out?
Wade Hinkle
Wouldn't this become the same issue that we are having problems with corn now. So much of the product of corn is now used in gasoline and other products that it has raised the price of food that has corn in it. The use of sugar in batteries will eventually raise the price.
The Skud
Sounds clever! Excuse me while I sneak away and try to corner the sugar market ...
Denzellazer
Imagine asking Places like McDonald's or Starbucks for extra sugar to charge your smartphone
Craig Jennings
Maltodextrin? Dear god, I'd better stock up now before it becomes too expensive for home brewing or I'll be left with thin, weak headed booze :(
I wonder which Maltodextrins they're playing with and how temperature dependent they are.
Anne, I'm not sure on the energy density, "an order of magnitude higher than others." Others being experimental sugar batteries. Would have been nice to have been given an potential vs Li-ion Benji! :)
Denis Klanac
Wade D Hinkle, that would be a good thing, the less sugar we eat the better.
coresnake
Another empty promise of better batteries, how many articles like this do we see every week? Yet batteries still suck balls even after all these years. I'll believe it when I see it.