Friday, June 19, 2009

Need a jump, sugar? A sweet new battery technology.

You got your lead-acid batteries, your lithium batteries, and of course, those sugar batteries.

Sugar batteries?

Battery technology has been identified as a key factor in the future of alternative energy, and lots of folks are working on ways to advance battery science. Some of it tweaks existing technologies, and some is going to entirely new places.

Two researchers from the University of Hawai'i's Hawai'i Natural Energy Institute, Daniel Scott and Bor Yann Liaw, have just published a report on a new way to use sugar to produce power in a battery.

The paper is “Harnessing electric power from monosaccharides—a carbohydrate-air alkaline fuel cell mediated by redox dyes,” printed in the journal, Energy & Environmental Science. The link:

“Here we show a simple, inexpensive approach to harness chemical energy from glucose, converting it directly into electric power without a precious metal, enzyme or microorganism to promote monosaccharide oxidation,” they write.

There's still a long way to go before you can power your cell phone with a spoonful of cane sugar. The researchers are still working out the details of the system, but their laboratory battery produces power, and produces it for an extended period of time without a lot of fuss. Scott and Liaw feel there's potential in their system.

“This approach might open the door to a broader possibility in using such monosaccharides in energy storage and harvesting to power small devices,” they write.

There have been sugar-based batteries before, but most have problems that interfere with their movement into commercial production—problems like cost, complexity, short operating times and so forth.

The Scott-Liaw battery system uses off-the-shelf components, and functions at room temperature and pressure.

“The resulting current and power density surpasses any existing glucose fuel cell designs. It is simple to assemble and operate with a variety of inexpensive raw materials. The process uses materials that are abundant and therefore is not projected to be resource limited.”

© Jan TenBruggencate 2009

(Just for the record, the image of a spoonful of sugar with a couple of electrical probes in it is a joke.)

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