A team of researchers at the Virginia Tech University have successfully developed a sugar-powered “biobattery” which is, according to them, capable of storing 10 times more energy than the equivalent-size lithium-ion batteries currently found in most gadgets. They further maintain that such batteries could be used to replace traditional disposable or rechargeable batteries in as little as three years. Recharging these batteries would be done by merely adding more sugar.

Sugar batteries are not a new thing, but the Virginia Tech researchers have now found a way to make a sugar battery with a higher energy density than others, meaning it can provide electrical power for much longer periods of time before it needs recharging. The researchers are currently in the process of determining whether the new sugar battery can still be improved to reach higher levels of energy density. According to the researchers, sugar is the perfect energy storage compound, which is why it is so widely used in nature to provide energy. In developing the new battery, they took inspiration from nature in using sugar as an energy storage medium.

The new sugar battery works just like other types of fuel cells, meaning that it breaks down a fuel, releasing energy in the process. The fuel it uses is partially digested starch, which can be found in high-energy plant-based foods like potatoes. In the battery, the starch is broken down into a complex sugar called maltodextrin, which is also already available as a food additive. This complex sugar is then further broken down by a chain of 13 enzymes. During this process, large quantities of electrons are released, with the electron charges stored in the sugar solution being released slowly, step-by-step, using an enzyme cascade. These can then be used to generate a current, which can be used to power electrical devices in a totally environmentally-friendly way, both because sugar is so widely available in nature, but also because it would mean the elimination of harmful conventional batteries.

As opposed to other fuel cell technologies, such as hydrogen and methanol fuel cells, the sugar solution used in this new battery is not flammable or explosive, which makes it the perfect fuel for supplying power to mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones.