Sony Makes Sugar-Powered Batteries

Sony, one of the world’s largest battery makers, developed a battery that generates electricity from carbohydrates (sugar). The device was developed based on the same power generation principles found in living organisms. Test batteries showed the ability to produce 50 milliwatts – currently the world’s highest level of power production for passive-type bio batteries (a system in which reactive substances such as glucose and oxygen are absorbed into electrodes through a process of natural diffusion). By combining 4 battery units, the supplied power is sufficient to operate a typical MP3 player or cell phone.
4 prototype bio battery units (left) connected to Walkman for playback (Credit: Sony)
4 prototype bio battery units (left)
connected to Walkman for playback (Credit: Sony)

The anode of the battery consists of enzymes and mediators (electronic conduction materials), which digest sugar in an effective way. Sony also developed a new cathode structure that efficiently supplies oxygen to the electrode while ensuring that the appropriate water content is maintained. Water content within the cathode is crucial to ensure optimum conditions for the efficient enzymatic reduction of oxygen. The anode and cathode are connected by a membrane. The anode extracts electrons and hydrogen that migrates through the membrane to the cathode’s side and creates water with oxygen. The flow of loose electrons between the cathode and the anode generates the power. The Japanese company has selected vegetable-based casing for its invention.

Bio batteries are a hot topic in the research community as a worldwide search for alternative energy sources gains speed. Scientists from the St. Louis University in Missouri created a battery that runs on vodka and gin. Similar to Sony’s device, this battery also uses enzymes as its catalyst and breaks down ethanol fuel. Enzyme-based batteries have the potential to be cheaper than their direct competitors – the fuel cells, which rely on expensive platinum or ruthenium catalysts. Enzymes, while being inexpensive, are catalytically very active. However, they are sensitive to slight changes in pH and in temperature and this may lead the enzyme-based batteries to quickly degrade and become inactive.

Sugar, a naturally occurring energy source, is a regenerative material, produced by plants through photosynthesis. It can be found in most areas of the Earth and therefore, sugar- powered bio batteries can be seriously considered as an ecologically-friendly energy device of the future. Sony says it will continue to work on immobilization systems, electrode composition, and other technologies in order to further enhance power output and durability. The company aims to create an effective energy source that will be suitable for practical applications.

Sony's bio battery mechanism
Sony’s bio battery mechanism

TFOT already covered several future battery technologies including a new safer type of Li-Ion nanobatteries developed at the Tel-Aviv University in Israel and a millimeter sized turbine engine, which can double as a powerful hydrogen powered battery, developed at MIT.

More information on the Sony sugar-powered battery, along with a video demonstration of the batteries can be found here.

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