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Power Handhelds Hardware

Scientists Powering Batteries with Soda, Tree Sap 216

Posted by Hemos
from the power-UP dept.
BobB writes "St. Louis University researchers have concocted batteries fueled by almost any kind of sugar, from tree sap to flat soda, and that could be used to power everything from computers to cell phones. Their thinking: If sugar can jack up the human body, why not electronics?"
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Scientists Powering Batteries with Soda, Tree Sap

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  • by Ihlosi (895663) on Monday March 26, 2007 @10:52AM (#18487863)
    It's hygroscopic. Of course, if the batteries can deal with that, that's cool.
  • Jacked up. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by crazyjeremy (857410) * on Monday March 26, 2007 @10:52AM (#18487869) Homepage Journal
    Sugar is sticky and it can jack up electronics. I don't think that's a good thing...
  • by BinarySkies (920189) on Monday March 26, 2007 @10:52AM (#18487873) Homepage
    I recall some previous stories about better batteries than this that could be about the same amount of eco-friendliness. What's up with all the batteries lately? Automobiles could probably be the most worthwhile reason to invent all of these batteries, but that means that it's incredibly likely that the portable power market will become the next oil market.
  • Stupid. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Spazntwich (208070) on Monday March 26, 2007 @10:55AM (#18487895)
    If people are bothering to create batteries run off food, why would they pick one of the least energy dense macronutrients?

    At 9 kilocalories per gram to carbs' 4, fats kick the crap out of carbohydrates with regard to energy density. Strikes me as odd.
  • Skepticism (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Shihar (153932) on Monday March 26, 2007 @10:57AM (#18487907)
    The idea is neat and has been around for some time, but the article fails to answer some pretty basic questions. The most important question is if they can actually get these batteries to pump out enough juice to power anything of importance. They said that they got the battery to run a calculator, but calculators are EXTREMELY low powered devices. The fact that you can run a calculator with a tiny primitive solar strip gives you an idea of how little power some calculators actually need. When they get one of these batteries (even a large one) powering a MP3 player, I will be impressed. Until then, I am deeply skeptical that there is anything to this.

    The other issue here is size. Even if they can pump out enough juice, they need the batteries to be small to be useful in most modern applications. The batteries for most electronic devices need to very small. There might be a niche market for this sort of thing, but I am very skeptical it is going to make any sort of splash in the consumer electronics field.
  • My thinking: (Score:1, Insightful)

    by UbuntuDupe (970646) * on Monday March 26, 2007 @10:59AM (#18487941) Journal
    How uneducated do you have to be to use the term "jack up" when describing power systems to a technically-literate audience?
  • by twitter (104583) on Monday March 26, 2007 @11:00AM (#18487955) Homepage Journal

    Sugar is sticky and it can jack up electronics. I don't think that's a good thing...

    Unless your blood is the nearest source of sugar.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 26, 2007 @11:01AM (#18487965)
    Well, we getting so close to have real nanobots in our bodies.
    One of the obstacles is how to power them.
    The answer - make them absorb blood shugar!
    The possibilities are endless.

    On a lot less futuristic note, think of a pacemaker that you don't have to
    recharge every so often.
  • Re:Jacked up. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by beckerist (985855) on Monday March 26, 2007 @11:02AM (#18487985) Homepage
    Car batteries have extremely corrosive sulfuric acid. I think sticky is easily handled...
  • by puck01 (207782) on Monday March 26, 2007 @11:15AM (#18488139)
    Offhand, sugars are water soluable, relatively small molecules and probably easy to harness for their energy (the fuel mixture will readily mix to keep the remaining sugar moledules exposed to whatever catalyst and other molecules it is reacting with). Because they're simple molecules, there probably is only one major reaction required to split the sugars and obtain energy.

    Fats are not water soluable, more complex chemically and thicker in general. I would think coming up with a stable reaction for the entire amount of fat in the tank would be difficult since they are not water soluable (you would need to mix them in a lipophilic solution) and they are thicker. I would imagine they would be more diffult to handle, especially if the idea is to make they reusable.

    Then again, it been awhile since I've done any chemisty. Sounds like an interesting concept.

    Way to go SLU (graduated from med school there)!
  • Re:Jacked up. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by crazyjeremy (857410) * on Monday March 26, 2007 @11:21AM (#18488197) Homepage Journal
    Car batteries are sealed and doesn't get refilled often. This type of fuel cell would need to be refilled regularly, thus requiring the user to handle sugar substances. I doubt people on slashdot would ever spill stuff, but normal people might.
  • Re:Obvious: (Score:4, Insightful)

    by truthsearch (249536) on Monday March 26, 2007 @11:28AM (#18488307) Homepage Journal
    So can we build a battery out of fat and give it caffeine to stimulate energy output? That would make for one disgusting battery. But we'd have a virtually unlimited natural resource!
  • by danpsmith (922127) on Monday March 26, 2007 @11:37AM (#18488427)

    Just like corn. There are some serious downsides to finding ways to use human food as fuel.

    Yes but you are missing the upside of this one. Unlike corn, sugar comes from a variety of sources, many of which are cheaply producable or directly obtainable from nature. For instance, the battery has been shown to use tree sap. You might say, well there's not enough tree sap, yes. But there's an abundance of sugar. Corn is one thing, not only must you grow the corn but you must break it down in a specific process for it to become fuel. This, essentially, means that you don't need to do that process. This is the ability to directly use some food products as fuel without additional conversion. Given how cheap food production has become, I'd say that's not bad.

  • Re:My thinking: (Score:3, Insightful)

    by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Monday March 26, 2007 @11:43AM (#18488479) Homepage Journal

    How uneducated do you have to be to write an article about alternative power storage technologies in which you write the following?

    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.

    Like, uh, what other fuel cells [howstuffworks.com] are these that use enzymes again?

  • by Radon360 (951529) on Monday March 26, 2007 @12:01PM (#18488693)

    I think for the enzymes to work properly, the sugar would need to be dissolved in water, anyway.

  • by spineboy (22918) on Monday March 26, 2007 @12:58PM (#18489515) Journal
    Using a power source like this would be a great boon to any medical devices that currently run off batteries - i.e. pacemakers, infusion pumps,cochlear implants etc. Hell, you could use it to power via induction external gadgets - your cellphone, watch, computer wireless modem, heck - internal computer with computer terminal glasses, etc.
      Build in a failsafe so that it doesn't reduce your blood sugar to below a critical level, so that you don't go into a hypoglycemic shock, and you're good to go. This would be really useful to diabetics to maintain their constant blood sugar level at a more physiologic normal value. "Crap - my blood glucose is 250. Anyone need their phone charged?"
  • Re:Stupid. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by OSU ChemE (974181) on Monday March 26, 2007 @01:48PM (#18490321) Journal

    I don't like the idea of using food for fuel or energy though. I'd much rather support cellulose to ethanol conversion because it generally wouldn't mean deciding between two very different needs, and cellulose is readily available and often just wasted in food production because it's in the parts of harvested of plants that are not food.
    I agree with you halfway on this one. I think cellulose has good potential as an energy source, since as you said it's often available as refuse/by-product or can be raised as its own crop (grasses and such). But ethanol isn't necessarily the best end product. Converting the cellulose to sugar has been (and to some extent, still is) the big challenge. Once you have the sugar, it may be more efficient to use it directly in the fuel cells from the article, rather than going through the fermentation and purification/refining process to make fuel grade ethanol.
  • by wings (27310) on Monday March 26, 2007 @01:52PM (#18490391) Homepage
    The spent fuel is biodegradeable so you can dump it in the sewer.
    If one person does it and it is biodegradeable, it isn't a problem.
    If 300Million people do it, you have an environmental disaster.
  • by DeePCedure (99267) on Monday March 26, 2007 @03:49PM (#18491877)
    How would it be an environmental disaster? The main byproduct of the enzymatic reaction is water.

    Is it an environmental disaster when 300M people take a shower everyday? Wash dishes? Do laundry? Flush a toilet? What about when a city with a hybrid or combined waste-water/rain-water sewage system gets hit by a storm? You have minor problems here and there, but rarely anything I'd care to qualify as an environmental disaster.

    You could focus on the non-water byproducts, but how would that be any different from the detergents, chemicals, and biological waste that already gets dumped into sewer systems all over the world every minute of every day? Half-time at major sporting events is a bigger concern, and that worry proved to be nothing more than an urban legend.
  • by pclminion (145572) on Monday March 26, 2007 @04:26PM (#18492455)

    If one person does it and it is biodegradeable, it isn't a problem. If 300Million people do it, you have an environmental disaster.

    That does not necessarily follow. We have no idea what this biodegradable waste product IS. The article is short on details. Urine is also biodegradable, and produced by everyone on the planet, and as far as I can tell we're not in the middle of Urine Armageddon...

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