Dedicated EarthTechling readers may recall a story we ran, way back in January, about a concept for a cell phone that runs on Coke. As it turns out, designer Daizi Zheng isn’t the only one thinking about the potential for bio-batteries to power our portable electronic devices. Recently, the National Science Foundation funded a study on this very subject, which was presented at the 240th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society in Boston.
The study, presented by Shelley Minteer, Ph.D., a chemist with Saint Louis University in Missouri, details a new battery-like device that uses sugar (courtesy of your soda pop or other sugary beverage) or even a dose of vegetable oil as fuel. The system has been described as “the first fuel cell that produces electricity with technology borrowed from the biological powerhouses that energize people and other living things on Earth:” mitochondria.
Mitochondria is the part of the cell known as the cell’s powerhouse because it can magically transform the calories in food into chemical energy that our bodies need to sustain vital function. The chemical formed via the digestion of sugar and fats, called pyruvate, goes on to make ATP (adenosine triphosphate), which stores energy until needed. Minteer and her colleagues envision an energy system for our portable electronic devices–including cell phones and laptops–powered by sugar or fats in the same way.
“This is the first demonstration of a new class of biofuel cells,” said Minteer, in a statement. “When further developed, these devices have the potential for replacing disposable and rechargeable batteries in a wide variety of consumer electronics and other products. It is the first such device based on one of the microscopic parts of the billions upon billions of cells that make up the body.” Other potential applications of mitochondria fuel cells include wireless sensors for temperature monitoring, motion detection, and monitoring the location of vehicles in a fleet.