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Converting Sugar to Energy Could Power Smartphones of the Future

First Posted: Mar 03, 2014 02:04 PM EST

When we consume sugar, it's converted into energy through the process of metabolism. Researchers are currently exploring this conversion process in various forms to be used for everyday energy and power.

Biobatteries are energy storing devices powered by organic compounds, typically glucose, because the breakdown of glucose in the body results in the release of protons and electrons. However, these batteries cannot wield large amounts of power. Now, researchers at Virginia Tech have taken the development to the next level.

Percival Zhang and Zhiguang Zhu conducted a study in which they designed a new biobattery with a greater output per weight than the average lithium-ion battery. Their battery has the capability to fully convert sugar to energy and it generates more power than its biobattery predecessors. The researchers' findings were published last month in the journal Nature Communications.

Zhang and Zhu developed an enzyme circle, which uses two enzymes that liberate two pairs of electrons from the sugar within the battery. Then, ten other enzymes are used to reset the reaction six times over, which releases all of the energy within the single sugar molecule. The key is that the researchers were able to extract more electrons per weight of sugar.

"By using the lithium-ion battery, for example, your phone can only last for one day, but in the future it will use sugar as the fuel...then the phone could last 10 days," said Zhu in this Live Science article. "But so far there are two more challenges in front of us."

The current shortcomings with the battery are that they cannot be recharged and they possess too low an output for many devices, but they can be solved through engineering practices. The researchers plan to move forward and solve these issues in further studies.

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