New Fuel Cell Harvests Electricity from Sugar and Weed Killer

PROVO, Utah, Oct. 1 (UPI) — Researchers at Brigham Young University say they have developed a fuel cell that harvests electricity from glucose and other carbohydrates.

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

The researchers said their solution turned out to be a common weed killer. Watt, whose great-great-uncle James Watt was the inventor of the steam engine, said the effectiveness of the cheap and abundant herbicide is a boon to carbohydrate-based fuel cells. By contrast, hydrogen-based fuel cells, such as those developed by the General Motors Corp., require costly platinum as a catalyst.

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 glucose than other people have done before,” said chemical engineering Professor Dean Wheeler. “Now we’re trying to get the power density higher so the technology will be more commercially attractive.”

The research is reported in The Journal of The Electrochemical Society.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

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