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Categorized | Eco-leisure, News

Sugar rush

Biodegradable batteries packed with sugar could replace conventional batteries within the next three years 

It is difficult to imagine a world without the disposable battery: they are vital for everything from your wristwatch to your TV remote control and of course many children’s toys.

The alkaline battery has been in common use for 50 years and although the level of poisonous mercury has been reduced by law, alkaline batteries are prone to leaking potassium hydroxide, a caustic agent that can cause respiratory, eye and skin irritation.

Disposal is regulated in some parts of the world but billions are simply tossed out with the trash and find their way into landfill.

Sugar batteries offer a possible solution and stop some of this waste ending up in landfills. The new battery entirely powered by sugar has an unmatched energy density which will be cheaper, refillable, and biodegradable. The research and development done by Y.H. Percival Zhang, an associate professor of biological systems engineering in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the College of Engineering, were published last month in the journal Nature Communications.

Zhang told Science Daily, even though this is not the first time sugar batteries have been developed, it is the first time the energy density has been higher than other conventional batteries. This allows the batteries to run longer before it needs to be refuelled.

Zhang along with his team constructed a synthetic enzymatic pathway that strip all charge potentials from the sugar to generate electricity in an enzymatic fuel cell. Low-cost biocatalyst enzymes are then used as catalyst instead of costly platinum, which is typically used in conventional batteries.

The sugar battery combines fuel, maltodextrin, with air to generate electricity and water as the main by-products. Maltodextrin combines parts of sugar and starch, and is often used in edible items like baked goods to improve texture. Unlike conventional battery fuels (hydrogen fuel cells and direct methanol fuel cells), maltodextrin is neither explosive nor flammable and has higher energy storage density.

If successful, the batteries could be powering cell phones, tablets, video games and other electronic gadgets in the just three years.

Sugar is like an energy storage compound, which makes it available to be used for charging batteries.

This is just one of Zhang’s notable works, he has also published articles on creating edible starch from non-food plants and developed a new way to extract hydrogen in an economical and environment-friendly way that can be used to power vehicles.

 

 

 

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