Scientists have reported the development of a new battery-like device that opens the possibility that people one day could “recharge” cell phones, laptops, and other portable electronics in an unlikely way ? with a sugar fix from a shared sip of soda pop or even a dose of vegetable oil.
They described the device, the first fuel cell that produces electricity with technology borrowed from the biological powerhouses that energize people and other living things on Earth, at the 240th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS).
“This is the first demonstration of a new class of biofuel cells,” said Shelley Minteer, Ph.D., who presented the report. “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.”
Just as the human body has internal organs like the liver and the heart, cells that make up the body have internal structures termed organelles (“little organs”). For the new biofuel cell, Minteer and colleagues chose one of the most amazing organelles: the mitochondria.
Sometimes called the cell’s own powerhouses, mitochondria transform the calories in food into chemical energy that the body needs to sustain life. Mitochondria use a chemical formed from the digestion of sugar and fats, called pyruvate, to make another substance called ATP (adenosine triphosphate), which stores energy until needed. Each day the mitochondria in a typical person produce and recycle an amount of ATP equal to the person’s body weight. This energy-producing system powered by sugar or fats opens the possibility of refueling a laptop or cell phone with vegetable fats or common oils, said Minteer, a chemist with Saint Louis University in Missouri.