Future phones will run on sugar, learn how!

Mike is all suited up. He’s waiting at the metro station for this lovely girl introduced to him by a friend. He really liked her and it’s officially a date. Ruth, the girl, promised to give Mike a call just as she got down. Mike checked the time, and took his phone to see whether Ruth has called. Then, the disaster! Phone has silently switched off, due to low power. Now you can guess the odds that stacked up against Mike to impress Ruth in their first date. Girls just don’t like

We all have been there, may be under less dramatic circumstances. But we all have “low power” story to tell. Most of us believe that our phones developed at much faster rate than their batteries. And it’s true. Good old days, you could charge your phone once and keep it running at least for two and half days. Now, most of us recharge our mobiles every day. But what if you can recharge you mobile (or your tab, laptop, music player) just like your car. When the power is low, you just add some sort of fuel to the battery and recharge it back to 100%, within seconds. Surprisingly, concept just like this has been developed and tested in the prototype stage. And soon, expected to hit the market. The fuel is simply “sugar”, or any other sugar containing drink like your sport drink or cola will work just fine too. Now with this technology, if you ever running low in power again, just add few drops of your energy drink in to the battery and you are on your way to meet Ruth.

The bio battery

This type of a battery is commonly known as a Bio battery, as they are driven by the fuels with common biological origin, like sugar. Battery that runs on sugar is called sugar battery. These batteries are essentially rechargeable cells of a battery class commonly referred to as fuel cells. Unlike, conventional batteries like lithium ion batteries that we use in our mobile devices, these batteries can be recharged literally in seconds by adding a suitable fuel source.

Sugar, is an amazing molecule and it drives all things alive. Plants produce sugars through photosynthesis and solar energy is stored in the molecules. When plants are eaten by animals, stored energy sugar molecules pumped up through the food chain. In our bodies, these sugar molecules are burned to release the stored energy to drive cellular functions. Scientists have long dreamed of a process through which we can burn sugars through a man-made mechanism that permits the extraction of stored energy in the form of electricity to power our electronics. Sugar is perfect for this due to their high energy density. Although, it looks sweet as it tastes, sugars pack a quite a punch. A single sachet packet contain as enough energy as six double A batteries (I usually use two in my tea). It would only take 1 kilo of sugar to blow off an average car in to pieces if one can get all the sugar molecules to ignite at the same time.

Burning sugar at the nanoscale

With the development of nanotechnology, this long lasting dream of scientists has now come to true. Sugar battery also uses a process similar to how human bodies convert food in to energy using enzymes. These bio fuel cells contain, like any other battery, anode, cathode, separator and an electrolyte. Typically, anode, separator and cathode are stacked on top of each other in the sequence mentioned

The fuel, in this case sugar is introduced in to the cell from the anode side. Anode is specially modified using nanotechnological pathways to contain sugar breaking enzymes. These special enzymes can break sugars in to Gluconolactone, protons and electrons. Only Protons, can pass through the separator and reach the cathode. Hence, electrons have to travel all the way through the circuit to reach to the cathode end, generating a current.

In the cathode, electrons and protons combine with oxygen obtained from the air to produce only water as the by product. This is simply like burning the sugars without a flame. This bio fuel cell, takes in sugar and oxygen to produce energy and water as the by product, just like our body cells does.

Nanotechnology plays an important role in the cathode and anode design. The power of the cell is directly dependent on the rate of conversion of sugar molecules in to Gluconolactone. Also, electrons and protons generated in this process needed to be collected from the cathode. Both these require high surface area that requires nanotechnology assisted modifications of the electrodes.

bio battery or sugar battery function

What to expect

Sugar battery, also serves as an attractive alternative energy solution for charging of electronic devices. Instead of using fossil fuel or nuclear based energy to power these systems, integrated charging mechanisms like these would help consumers to engage and use alternative energy solutions more often in their routine. As sugars are usually produced from plants like sugarcane and sugar beet, this also can be classified as a renewable energy technology. SONY Japan; one of the leading companies engaged in energy storage devices, spearhead the development in this field. Recently they have demonstrated a practical sugar battery that can actually power a music player with speakers attached. More recent developments of sugar batteries indicated that they can operate at least ten times longer than conventional lithium ion batteries.

Watch the video to learn what scientists have to say about sugar batteries.

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Further reading

  1. Sweet success for bio-battery, Katia Moskvitch

  2. Zhu, Zhiguang, Tsz Kin Tam, Fangfang Sun, Chun You, and Y-H. Percival Zhang. “A high-energy-density sugar biobattery based on a synthetic enzymatic pathway.” Nature communications5 (2014).

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