Sugar + weed killer = potential clean energy source
Researchers from Brigham Young University have developed a fuel cell – essentially a battery with a tank of gas – that harvests electricity from glucose and other sugars known as carbohydrates.
Preferred energy source for the human body could one day power our gadgets, cars or houses.
“Carbohydrates are very rich in energy,” said BYU chemistry professor Gerald Watt. “What we needed was a catalyst to draw electrons from glucose and transfer to an electrode.”
The surprising solution proved to be a common herbicide, as reported by Watt and his colleagues in the October issue of the Journal of the Electrochemical Society. Watt wonderfully appropriate shares his surname with his great-great-uncle James Watt, inventor of the steam engine.
The effectiveness of this cheap and abundant to herbicides is a blessing for carbohydrate-based fuel cells. By contrast, hydrogen-based fuel cells such as those developed by General Motors require expensive platinum catalyst.
The next step for the BYU team is boosting power through design improvements.
The study reported experiments that gave a conversion rate of 29 percent or 7 transfer electrons available for 24 per molecule of glucose.
“We’ve shown that you can get much more glucose than others have done before,” Dean said Wheeler, author of the Faculty of paper and a professor of chemical engineering at BYU Fulton College of Engineering and Technology. “We are trying to obtain higher power density for technology will be more commercially attractive.
Since writing the paper, the prototype of researchers has managed to double the performance of energy. And he is looking for a sugar even higher.