Biodegradable sugar batteries could make gadgets go green

22 Jan 2014

Y.H. Percival Zhang (right) is lead on the sugar battery project

A team of scientists in Virginia Tech university have developed a sugar battery which they believe will offer a much more environmentally sustainable future for powering devices simply by topping up with sugar.

Currently, all rechargeable batteries that power out smartphones, tablets and any other portable devices uses lithium batteries which can be particularly harmful to the environment and is non-biodegradable.

For this reason, scientists have been trying to develop a greener solution to a rechargeable, but easier and environmentally-friendlier way to charge.

Now, Y.H. Percival Zhang, an associate professor of biological systems engineering in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the College of Engineering and project lead has highlighted his work on a cheap, refillable sugar battery that can save millions of tonnes of disposed lithium batteries.

‘Perfect source of energy storage’

In the piece featured in the Nature Communications journal, Zhang claims this process should be the only way forward in battery development: “Sugar is a perfect energy storage compound in nature so it’s only logical that we try to harness this natural power in an environmentally friendly way to produce a battery.”

It is common knowledge that sugar contains a lot of stored energy and it is only a matter of extracting this energy to provide a much cleaner fuel source.

 In the sugar battery itself, the casing combines fuel – in the form of maltodextrin, a polysaccharide made from partial hydrolysis of starch – which in turn creates the much cleaner byproducts of air and water to generate the electricity.

To recharge the battery you simply fill it back up with sugar which not only saves energy from charging the battery back up, but also means it takes a matter of seconds to have a full charge once again.

The technology is still in developmental stage but Zhang’s team hope to have a commercially available battery powering all our devices within 3 to 4 years.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic