Sweet! Biodegradable Fuel Cell Battery Runs on Sugar

From soda to tree sap, this battery derives energy from sugar.

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Americans purchase 3 billion batteries per year, according to the EPA. Batteries are a necessity, but they’re relatively short-lived and contain hazardous heavy metals. Using rechargeables helps—but eventually most of them also end up in the landfill.

Electrochemist Shelley Minteer, Ph.D., and a group of researchers from Saint Louis University have created a biodegradable fuel cell battery that can run on almost any sugar, from soft drinks to tree sap. “When you feed kids carbohydrates, their bodies use it very efficiently,” Minteer says. “They convert that sugar into the energy that they need to run around and do what kids do. We take that process and use it to power the sugar battery.”

Minteer has created a prototype battery that’s more powerful and runs longer than anything previously developed. Currently, the sugar bio-battery can power a handheld calculator and has the potential to function several times longer on a charge than conventional lithium ion batteries, according to university staffers. Plus it’s made with a biodegradable casing.

The university has licensed the technology to an engineering group that will bring the sugar bio-battery to consumers. “We estimate it will be available to the public in the three-to-five-year time frame,” Minteer says. “Those things are always hard to put a number on, though.”