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Sugar Power

Sugar Power

BY ISHA LODHI

Give a toddler more than the necessary dose of sugar at night and you will see how it simply refuses to go to bed after that. If you have just the right amount of bad luck, your toddler might even manage to turn over the entire house before it gets sleepy. This is why every mother knows better than to give her child a high dose of sugar in the evening.

The other conclusion from the above experiment that researchers have made is that sugar is a very good energy-storing chemical; in fact, the best compound there is in nature to store energy.

A research team in Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences has used sugar (yes, you read it right!) to make batteries. This is not the first time sugar has been used to make batteries but the sugar battery made by the Virginia Tech team sure has the highest energy density up until now. This battery is cheaper than conventional batteries, is refillable, and is environment friendly (because it is biodegradable).

Here is how the team managed to make the battery:  

They constructed a synthetic enzymatic pathway that strips all charge potentials from the sugar to generate electricity in an enzymatic fuel cell. Like all energy producing processes, the sugar battery combines fuel – in this case, maltodextrin, a polysaccharide made from partial hydrolysis of starch – with air to generate electricity and water as the main byproducts. The electron charges stored in the sugar solution are released systematically by an enzyme chain reaction.  The sugar fuel can be refilled into the cell similar to filling a printer cartridge with ink, which makes the battery easy to use. . Low-cost biocatalyst enzymes were used to catalyze the process instead of costly platinum (which is used as a catalyst in conventional batteries).  The enzymes and fuels used to build the device were all biodegradable.

These sugar batteries are a huge step towards resolving one of the biggest challenges faced by many countries today, i.e. e-waste. Getting rid of their electronic waste in a way that does not threaten the environment is a problem all countries face today.  Research like this can help reduce the amounts of poisonous compounds in landfills, where most of our waste is dumped, and prevent the health issues related to them.

Photograph and material from:

www.phys.org/news

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