Is Your Phone Out of Juice? Biological fuel cell turns drinks into power

Using enzymes commonly found in living cells, a new type of fuel cell produces small amounts of electricity from sugar. If the technology becomes viable for mass production, a few drops of your favorite soft drink will be all you need to recharge your cell phone.

In fuel cells, chemical reactions generate electrical currents. The process usually relies on precious metals, such as platinum, acting as catalysts. In living cells, enzymes perform a similar job, breaking down sugars to extract electrons and produce energy.

When researchers previously used enzymes in fuel cells, they had trouble keeping them humming, says Shelley D. Minteer of St. Louis University. Whereas biological cells continually produce fresh enzymes, there’s no mechanism in fuel cells to replace enzymes as they quickly degrade.

Minteer and Tamara Klotzbach, also of St. Louis University, have now developed polymers that wrap around an enzyme and preserve it in a microscopic pocket. “We tailor these pockets to provide the ideal microenvironment” for the enzyme, Minteer says. The polymers keep the enzyme active for months instead of days.

  1. Ben Waymark says:

    Cool! Does that mean Cola will finally, after all these years, have a purpose in life?

  2. Angel H. Wong says:

    Booze powered robots! Futurama was right!

  3. Great! If they can turn calories into electrical energy how long until sub-dermal probes can do the same?

    The ultimate diet, plug your cell phone into your DermaJack® and talk away the pounds as your cell phone consumes those excess calories! Just make sure you don’t yammer to Aunt Bettie too long!

  4. TJGeezer says:

    Do enzymes active for months imply a trickle of electricity sufficient to run the cell phone or other low-power device could be maintained for months before pouring in some new enzymes? That’s a helluva technology, if so. All kinds of applications come to mind.


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