DOE News
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    The DOE Science News Source is a Newswise initiative to promote research news from the Office of Science of the DOE to the public and news media.
    • 2014-01-21 10:00:00
    • Article ID: 612604

    Sweet Science: Virginia Tech Researcher Develops Energy-Dense Sugar Battery

    Harnessing an environmentally friendly source to produce a battery

    • Credit: Virginia Tech

      Y.H. Percival Zhang (right), an associate professor of biological systems engineering at Virginia Tech, and Zhiguang Zhu show off their new sugar battery.

    Zeke Barlow

    bzeke@vt.edu

    540-231-5417

    A Virginia Tech research team has developed a battery that runs on sugar and has an unmatched energy density, a development that could replace conventional batteries with ones that are cheaper, refillable, and biodegradable.

    The findings from Y.H. Percival Zhang, an associate professor of biological systems engineering in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the College of Engineering, were published today in the journal Nature Communications.

    While other sugar batteries have been developed, this one has an energy density an order of magnitude higher than others, allowing it to run longer before needing to be refueled, Zhang said.

    In as soon as three years, Zhang's new battery could be running some of the cell phones, tablets, video games, and the myriad other electronic gadgets that require power in our energy-hungry world, Zhang said.

    "Sugar is a perfect energy storage compound in nature," Zhang said. "So it's only logical that we try to harness this natural power in an environmentally friendly way to produce a battery."

    In America alone, billions of toxic batteries are thrown away every year, posing a threat to both the environment and human health, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Zhang's development could help keep hundreds of thousands of tons of batteries from ending up in landfills.

    This is one of Zhang's discoveries in the last year that utilize a series of enzymes mixed together in combinations not found in nature. He has published articles on creating edible starch from non-food plants and developed a new way to extract hydrogen in an economical and environmentally friendly way that can be used to power vehicles.

    In this newest development, Zhang and his colleagues constructed a non-natural synthetic enzymatic pathway that strip all charge potentials from the sugar to generate electricity in an enzymatic fuel cell. Then, low-cost biocatalyst enzymes are used as catalyst instead of costly platinum, which is typically used in conventional batteries.

    Like all fuel cells, the sugar battery combines fuel — in this case, maltodextrin, a polysaccharide made from partial hydrolysis of starch - with air to generate electricity and water as the main byproducts.

    "We are releasing all electron charges stored in the sugar solution slowly step-by-step by using an enzyme cascade," Zhang said.

    Different from hydrogen fuel cells and direct methanol fuel cells, the fuel sugar solution is neither explosive nor flammable and has a higher energy storage density. The enzymes and fuels used to build the device are biodegradable.

    The battery is also refillable and sugar can be added to it much like filling a printer cartridge with ink.

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    Splitting Water Fast! Catalyst Works Faster than Mother Nature

    Splitting Water Fast! Catalyst Works Faster than Mother Nature

    Design principles lead to a catalyst that splits water in a low pH environment, vital for generating solar fuels.

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    Fast-Moving Pairs May Solve 35-Year-Old Mystery

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    Team Takes Fluoride from Taps and Toothpaste to Batteries

    Team Takes Fluoride from Taps and Toothpaste to Batteries

    With user facilities, researchers devise novel battery chemistries to help make fluoride batteries a reality.

    Quarks Under Pressure in the Proton

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    Physicists Improve Understanding of Heat and Particle Flow in the Edge of a Fusion Device

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    PPPL physicists have discovered valuable information about how plasma flows at the edge inside doughnut-shaped fusion devices. The findings mark an encouraging sign for the development of machines to produce fusion energy for generating electricity without creating long-term hazardous waste.


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    Department of Energy Announces $20 Million for Artificial Intelligence Research

    Today, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced a total of $20 million in funding for innovative research and development in artificial intelligence (A.I.) and machine learning.

    Tim Knewitz named Argonne National Laboratory's Chief Financial Officer

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    David Reis named head of PULSE Institute for ultrafast science

    David Reis named head of PULSE Institute for ultrafast science

    Long before David Reis joined the faculty of the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and Stanford University, he was helping lay the groundwork for the lab's first-of-a-kind X-ray free-electron laser, or XFEL, and the revolutionary science that followed its opening in 2009. Now he's director of the PULSE Institute, which was founded by SLAC and Stanford with the express purpose of exploiting the possibilities for ultrafast science at that X-ray laser, the Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS).

    Head of NSTX-U research is appointed deputy director for research at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory

    Head of NSTX-U research is appointed deputy director for research at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory

    Jon Menard, the head of research on the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory's National Spherical Torus Experiment-Upgrade, has been named deputy director for research. Michael Zarnstorff, who held the position for 10 years, will become the chief chief scientist at PPPL, a position that will oversee strategic scientific planning.

    Argonne scientist advances energy sciences through professional leadership

    Argonne scientist advances energy sciences through professional leadership

    Ralph Muehleisen of the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory was recently re-elected to the Board of Directors of IBPSA-USA, the U.S. affiliate of the International Building Performance Simulation Association. IBPSA is a global leader in the promotion of building simulation science and one of the largest professional organizations in the world for building scientists and engineers.

    Brookhaven Lab Publishes Second Edition of Nuclear Nonproliferation Textbook

    Brookhaven Lab Publishes Second Edition of Nuclear Nonproliferation Textbook

    Brookhaven Lab has published the second edition of Deterring Nuclear Proliferation: The Importance of IAEA Safeguards, a textbook that provides a history of the origins of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and introduces the ways in which IAEA verifies nation states' nuclear nonproliferation commitments.

    PPPL's Young Women's Conference Offers Girls Fun and Inspiration in STEM Fields

    PPPL's Young Women's Conference Offers Girls Fun and Inspiration in STEM Fields

    PPPL's Young Women's Conference in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics on Friday, March 22, at Princeton University, seeks to change the statistics that show women still lag far behind men in the STEM fields. The conference offers 7th to 10th-grade girls hands-on science activities, exciting experiments, and talks and a keynote speech by early-career female scientists.


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    Splitting Water Fast! Catalyst Works Faster than Mother Nature

    Splitting Water Fast! Catalyst Works Faster than Mother Nature

    Design principles lead to a catalyst that splits water in a low pH environment, vital for generating solar fuels.

    Sea Quark Spin Surprise!

    Sea Quark Spin Surprise!

    Antiquark spin contribution to proton spin depends on flavor, which could help unlock secrets about the nuclear structure of atoms that make up nearly all visible matter in our universe.

    The Weak Side of the Proton

    The Weak Side of the Proton

    A precision measurement of the proton's weak charge narrows the search for new physics.

    Fast-Moving Pairs May Solve 35-Year-Old Mystery

    Fast-Moving Pairs May Solve 35-Year-Old Mystery

    Physicists develop a universal mathematical description that suggests that proton-neutron pairs in a nucleus may explain why their associated quarks have lower average momenta than predicted.

    Team Takes Fluoride from Taps and Toothpaste to Batteries

    Team Takes Fluoride from Taps and Toothpaste to Batteries

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    Quarks Under Pressure in the Proton

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    Magnetic Levitation of Ultracold Neutrons Yields New Measurement of the Neutron Lifetime

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    Storing extremely slow neutrons in a novel trap enables precise measurement of a basic property of particle physics.

    New Molecular Blueprint Aids Study of Photosynthesis

    New Molecular Blueprint Aids Study of Photosynthesis

    Insights into how nature converts carbon dioxide into sugar could help scientists develop crops that produce fuels and other products.

    Catching Fast Changes in Excited Molecules

    Catching Fast Changes in Excited Molecules

    Scientists observe and control molecular and atomic dynamics at the fastest timescales to date.

    Atomic Maps Reveal How Iron Rusts

    Atomic Maps Reveal How Iron Rusts

    Scientists discovered how iron atoms continually re-arrange on surfaces, offering insights into metal corrosion and soil remediation.


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