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Powered by your liquor cabinet, 'biofuel cell' could replace rechargeable batteries

NEW ORLEANS, March 27 From scientists at Saint Louis University comes a gadget fit for a James Bond movie. Imagine 007 sauntering up to the bar, ordering his trademark martini (shaken, not stirred) and, before taking a sip, topping off his cell phone with a few drops of alcohol to recharge the battery.

Researchers have developed a new type of biofuel cell a battery that runs off of alcohol and enzymes that could replace the rechargeable batteries in everything from laptops to Palm Pilots. Instead of plugging into a fixed power outlet and waiting, these new batteries can be charged instantly with a few milliliters of alcohol. The new findings were presented today at the 225th national meeting of the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society, in New Orleans.

Biofuel cells have been studied for nearly half a century, but the technology has not advanced to the point of practical use. Instead of using expensive metals to catalyze the power-producing reaction, these cells use enzymes molecules found in all living things that speed up the body's chemical processes.

"The only items consumed in a biofuel cell are the fuel and oxygen from the air," says Shelley Minteer, Ph.D., an assistant professor of chemistry at Saint Louis University who presented the research. "Given the proper environment, an enzyme should last for long periods of time. It is creating this environment in a fuel cell that researchers have struggled with for years," Minteer says.

Enzymes are extremely sensitive to changes in pH and temperature, and even slight departures from ideal conditions can lead to inactivation of the enzymes, producing a short supply of power.

The typical approach to overcoming this barrier has been to immobilize the enzymes by attaching them to the electrodes, but they still tend to decay too quickly to be useful. Minteer and her colleagues coated the electrodes with a polymer that has specially tailored micelle
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24-Mar-2003


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