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Chemists turn to sugar to fuel batteries

By Alpha Doggs on Sun, 03/25/07 - 11:18pm.

Hey, if you can knock back a Mountain Dew to give yourself a boost, why can't your electronic devices go for a sugar high to keep themselves cranking, too?

Researchers at Saint Louis University in Missouri have cooked up biodegradable fuel cell batteries that they say can run on just about any sugar source and that can last three or four times longer per charge than typical lithium ion batteries. Commercial versions could be ready in three to five years, the researchers say.

The scientists presented their findings at the national meeting of the American Chemical Society. A prototype of the stamp-sized battery runs a calculator, but future applications could include powering computers and recharging cellphones. Tree sap, soda and drink mixes have been used to power the batteries so far.

"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 a statement. "It demonstrates that by bridging biology and chemistry, we can build a better battery that's also cleaner for the environment."

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

Funding for this study was provided by the U.S. Department of Defense.

More on battery developments:

Battery startup has a powerful pitch ... and pitcher

Panasonic develops battery that won't overheat


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