A Sweet Energy Solution Environmentally Friendly Battery Made Of Sugar by Skyler Cannabaceae
You’re running some errands and your cell phone battery is about to die. Every regular mobile phone user has experienced this type of situation. There are no electrical outlets for you to use to charge your phone, so what do you do? How about popping the battery out of your phone and refilling it with sugar? It sounds like a pipe dream, but a team of researchers at Virginia Tech published a paper in January showing that a sugar battery is not only possible, but can feature a higher energy density than others. This could lead to it being stiff competition for the standard lithium-ion batteries used in most electronics. Y.H. Percival Zhang, an associate professor of biological systems engineering at Virginia Tech and the primary author of the study, said that this battery “has an energy density an order of magnitude higher than others, allowing it to run longer before needing to be refueled.” Zhang goes on to suggest that his battery could be ready in as little as three years to power all sorts of electronics, such as the cell phones and tablets that continue to grow as staples of American life. “Sugar is a perfect energy storage compound in nature,” Zhang told VA Tech’s campus news. “So it’s only logical that we try to harness this natural power in an environmentally friendly way to produce a battery.” This isn’t the first time a battery has been created that runs on sugar. In 2007, Sony announced that they had created a “biobattery” that would use glucose as a power source. Building on the established science, Zhang and his fellow researchers created enzymatic fuel cells that contain a 15 percent maltodextrin solution. The paper claims that these could serve as ecologically friendly power sources for the portable electronics in years to come. The battery would not be able to produce enough power to sustain large requirements for fuel sources, like cars, so don’t go pouring that bag of sugar into the tank just yet. It could very well replace lithium-ion batteries, though. By creating a synthetic enzymatic pathway, the solution is broken down more slowly leading to a steady and even flow of energy; the lack of which had been a problem in previous bio-batteries This new battery interests people who are concerned about lithium-ion batteries, the battery type most used in portable electronics, ending up in landfills all over America and wrecking
58 April 2014
havoc on the environment. A report from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, a part of the U.S. Department of Health, says that these batteries, “enter the solid waste stream and can contaminate soil and water.” Zhang’s battery would neutralize this concern since the only byproducts are electricity and water. It would also eliminate the need to throw batteries into a landfill because they are refillable. Not rechargeable, but refillable, which is better. The new battery would not need to be plugged in to recharge the way that most lithium-ion batteries do. Instead, it could be refilled with more of the solution to continue to generate energy. This would not only lead to less waste, but the low cost of sugar compared to toxic metals used in lithium-ion would result in a cost as low as one-tenth that of the current batteries used. The new batteries have over 10 times the energy density of lithium-ion, the study shows, and can last as much as two times longer than lithium-ion batteries weighing the same amount. No need to start looking for sugar batteries on store shelves, though, as Zhang expects, it will take at least three years for them to be produced and ready for use. No worries. When it’s ready , the cannabis community is too.