Consumers arent the only ones who stand to benefit from this new technology. The military is interested in using the sugar battery to charge portable electronic equipment on the battlefield and in emergency situations where access to electricity is limited. These devices include remote sensors for detecting biological and chemical weapons. Devices could be instantly recharged by adding virtually any convenient sugar source, including plant sap, Minteer says.
Like other fuel cells, the sugar battery contains enzymes that convert fuel in this case, sugar into electricity, leaving behind water as a main byproduct. But unlike other fuel cells, all of the materials used to build the sugar battery are biodegradable.
So far, Minteer has run the batteries on glucose, flat sodas, sweetened drink mixes and tree sap, with promising results. She also tested carbonated beverages, but carbonation appears to weaken the fuel cell. The best fuel source tested so far is ordinary table sugar (sucrose) dissolved in water, she says.
One of the first applications Minteer envisions for the sugar fuel cell is using it as a portable cell phone recharger, similar to the quick rechargers already on the market that allow users to instantly charge their cell phones while on the go. Ideally, these rechargers would contain special cartridges that are pre-filled with a sugar solution. These cartridges then could be replaced when theyre used up. Ultimately, she hopes that the sugar battery can be used as a stand-alone battery replacement in a wide range of portable electronic devices.
Future work includes modifying the batterys performance for varying environmental conditions, including high temperatures, and extending the life of the battery, Minteer says. Funding for this study was provided by the U.S. Department of Defense.