Sugar + weed killer = potential clean energy source

September 29, 2009

A spoonful of herbicide helps the sugar break down in a most delightful way.

Researchers at Brigham Young University have developed a - basically a battery with a gas tank - that harvests electricity from glucose and other sugars known as carbohydrates.

The human body's preferred energy source could someday our gadgets, cars or homes.

"Carbohydrates are very energy rich," said BYU chemistry professor Gerald Watt. "What we needed was a catalyst that would extract the electrons from glucose and transfer them to an electrode."

The surprising solution turned out to be a common weed killer, as reported by Watt and his colleagues in the October issue of the Journal of The Electrochemical Society. Watt shares his wonderfully appropriate last name with his great-great-uncle James Watt, the inventor of the steam engine.

The effectiveness of this cheap and abundant herbicide is a boon to carbohydrate-based fuel cells. By contrast, hydrogen-based fuel cells like those developed by General Motors require costly platinum as a catalyst.

The next step for the BYU team is to ramp up the power through design improvements.

The study reported experiments that yielded a 29 percent conversion rate, or the transfer of 7 of the 24 available electrons per glucose molecule.

"We showed you can get a lot more out of than other people have done before," said Dean Wheeler, lead faculty author of the paper and a chemical engineering professor in BYU's Fulton College of Engineering and Technology. "Now we're trying to get the power density higher so the technology will be more commercially attractive."

Since they wrote the paper, the researchers' prototype has achieved a doubling of power performance. And they're pursuing an even stronger sugar high.

Source: Brigham Young University (news : web)

Explore further: Sweet fuel supply

Related Stories

Sweet fuel supply

November 28, 2007

A new type of fuel cell powered with glucose derived from biomass is described in the latest issue of the Inderscience Publication International Journal of Global Energy Issues. The experimental device works by using sunlight ...

Researchers use corn waste to generate electricity

July 19, 2006

After the corn harvest, whether for cattle feed or corn on the cob, farmers usually leave the stalks and stems in the field, but now, a team of Penn State researchers thinks corn stover can be used not only to manufacture ...

New perspective on leaky membrane extends fuel cell run time

February 24, 2006

Direct methanol fuel cells -- which could potentially power portable wireless electronic devices from computers to cell phones to iPods -- could soon benefit from a new approach to membrane leakage and a new membrane-electrode ...

New fuel cell drives around hydrogen economy roadblocks

April 1, 2005

As gasoline prices climb ever higher and the U.S. Senate backs oil drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the possibility of a hydrogen economy -- where drivers tank up on clean-burning hydrogen fuel -- gleams ...

Recommended for you

Volvo to supply Uber with self-driving cars (Update)

November 20, 2017

Swedish carmaker Volvo Cars said Monday it has signed an agreement to supply "tens of thousands" of self-driving cars to Uber, as the ride-sharing company battles a number of different controversies.

New method analyzes corn kernel characteristics

November 17, 2017

An ear of corn averages about 800 kernels. A traditional field method to estimate the number of kernels on the ear is to manually count the number of rows and multiply by the number of kernels in one length of the ear. With ...

9 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Lord_jag
5 / 5 (1) Sep 29, 2009
Ok, which weed killer? what approx concentrations? How is this "abundant" weed killer made? Is it cheap because it comes from oil?
jamesrm
4 / 5 (1) Sep 29, 2009
I think its a Viologen
http://en.wikiped...Viologen
codesuidae
not rated yet Sep 29, 2009
Is the weed killer catalytic, or is it a consumable?
Scalziand
5 / 5 (2) Sep 29, 2009
Is the weed killer catalytic, or is it a consumable?

"What we needed was a catalyst that would extract the electrons from glucose and transfer them to an electrode."

The surprising solution turned out to be a common weed killer...


It would seem to imply that it is a catalyst.
defunctdiety
not rated yet Sep 29, 2009
What are the waste products?
NotAsleep
5 / 5 (1) Sep 29, 2009
A bit more info here:

http://scitation....gifs=Yes

They say it's a Viologen catalyst
holoman
1 / 5 (1) Sep 29, 2009
"By contrast, hydrogen-based fuel cells like those developed by General Motors require costly platinum as a catalyst."

Mazda and many other people have been running hydrogen combustion in their gas/diesel engines with no problem.

No fuel cell or batteries needed for using hydrogen as a fuel.


Sean_W
not rated yet Sep 29, 2009
I thought that hydrocarbons like fossil fuels were more energy dense than carbohydrates like glucose which is why the body stores chemical energy as fat instead of sugar.
ThomasS
not rated yet Sep 29, 2009
I thought that hydrocarbons like fossil fuels were more energy dense than carbohydrates like glucose which is why the body stores chemical energy as fat instead of sugar.


They are, they have longer chains, so more stored energy, but glucose already contains a very good amount by volume or weight, so being able to extract even a portion of that is quite nice.


What are the waste products?

Formate and Carbonate

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.