Embargoed for release: Wednesday, August 25, 9:45 a.m., Eastern Time
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Scientists today reported 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, here 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.” 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. Minteer and colleagues described the development and successful lab testing of the first mitochondria fuel cell. The device consists of a thin layer of mitochondria sandwiched between two electrodes, including a gas-permeable electrode. Tests showed that it produced electricity using sugar or cooking oil byproducts as fuel.