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Scientists discover way to recharge laptops and cell phones with soda pop and vegetable oil

Saturday, September 11, 2010 by: S. L. Baker, features writer
Tags: sugar, energy, health news

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(NaturalNews) Researchers looking for new, cheap energy sources might want to look in the food pantry and junk food aisle at the grocery story. Sugary drinks as well as vegetable oils and plain old table sugar could one day be used to recharge cell phones, laptops and other portable electronics.

Sound crazy? Not according to scientists who recently reported a remarkable "first" at the 240th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS). They've created the first fuel cell that produces electricity with technology borrowed from natural biological powerhouses. These innovative biofuel cells, the researchers believe, can transform sugar and fats into energy for running a host of machines and devices.

"This is the first demonstration of a new class of biofuel cells," Saint Louis University chemist Shelley Minteer, Ph.D., who presented the report, said in a press statement. "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."

She explained the human body has internal structures termed organelles ("little organs") -- and some of the most important organelles are the membrane-enclosed mitochondria. Sometimes referred to as the powerhouses behind cells, mitochondria transform calories from food into chemical energy that the body needs to sustain life. Specifically, the mitochondria use a chemical called pyruvate, formed when sugar and fats are digested, to make another biological substance called ATP (adenosine triphosphate). ATP stores energy until the body needs it. Every day, the mitochondria in a normal human produce and recycle an amount of ATP approximately the equivalent of a person's body weight.

What does this have to do with recharging electronic devices? Dr. Minteer explained that understanding this energy-producing biological system opened the possibility of using this knowledge to develop the first mitochondria-type fuel cell. And that's just what she and her team did.

The device is made of a thin layer of mitochondria sandwiched between two electrodes, including a gas-permeable electrode. So far, Dr. Minteer has run biofuel batteries on glucose, flat sodas, sweetened drink mixes and tree sap -- ordinary table sugar (sucrose) dissolved in water seems to work the best. One of the first applications for this new kind of biofuel energy cell could be a portable cell phone charger, similar to the quick chargers already on the market that allow users to instantly charge their cell phones while on the go. Ideally, Dr. Minteer said, these chargers will contain special cartridges that are pre-filled with a sugar solution.

In addition to revving up electronic devices, the scientists also think mitochondria fuel cells could be used as power sources in wireless sensors for temperature monitoring, motion detection, and for monitoring the location of vehicles in a fleet. The new biofuel cells also could work well as a power source for stamp-sized sensors designed to detect hidden explosives, the researchers noted.

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