Brazilian sugarcaneEnlarge Photo
Humans and batteries--and indeed most other things in the natural world, operate on largely similar principals.
Energy is generated somehow, stored, and expended for work. It's only the details that separate these processes, but the gap might shrink with the advent of biobatteries.
As ExtremeTech reports, researchers at Virginia Tech have developed a working sugar-powered fuel cell with energy density greater than that of current lithium-ion batteries.
Sugar, or more accurately glucose, is an excellent source of energy in biological beings, as it's energy-dense and easy for a plant or animal to process. In humans, during aerobic respiration, it produces 3.75 kilocalories of food energy per gram.
In the newly-developed battery, it's similarly productive, with a storage density of 596 amp-hours per kilo, described as "one order of magnitude"--or ten times more than that of lithium-ion batteries currently used in consumer electronics.
Non-biological objects aren't particularly good at extracting energy from sugar (unless you burn it, something we're attempting to reduce with electric vehicles...) so the researchers are using tailor-made enzymes to break down glucose and turn it into electricity.
These 13 different enzymes are combined with air and maltodextrin glucose in the battery. The only products are water and electricity.
The battery's stability over multiple charge and discharge cycles isn't known, though chief researcher on the project, Y.H. Percival Zhang, says it's as near as three years from commercialization.
The other unknown is whether such a battery would be scaleable for use in electric vehicles. For the time being, the project seems to be focusing on batteries for smartphones and similar, or smaller-scale electronics for use in advanced medicine.
Food versus fuel also rears its head here. While poorer areas may have better access to sugar than they do fossil fuels, mass-commercialization of a sugar-based battery could lead to high prices and rising food costs.
And as ever, this is still a technology in the midst of research. We've covered dozens of different battery technologies over the last few years, but few have been produced in any meaningful quantity.
If sugar-based batteries could be made to work though, it'd be pretty sweet...
[Hat tip: Richard Zinck Jr.]