bio-batteries vs. bio-cars vs. food?

Via the blog inhabitat:

Next time that someone asks you if you have some sugar, they may actually need it for something else other than their coffee addiction. They could be using it to power their walkman. Sony, the Japanese electronics maker announced that they have developed an experimental ‘biobattery’ powered by carbohydrates, or as it is most deliciously known, sugar.

Sony battery

The battery presented by Sony showed the highest output ever by a battery of this kind at a very respectable 50mW of power, or about enough to power a portable MP3 player. The Bio Battery is a type of battery that uses energy sources such as carbohydrates, amino acids and other sources of enzymes and it is based on the work of Professor Kenji Kano from Kyoto University. It is still a bit big, with a length, height and depth of 39mm all around an it does take about a minute to get started. Still, they way that it works is simply nothing short of amazing. Simply add sugar to the battery and voila, instant power. You don’t even have to mix it.

From the Sony site:

The research results presented here have been accepted as an academic paper at the 234th American Chemical Society National Meeting & Exposition in Boston, MA USA, and were announced at 11 am local time on August 22, 2007.

It does have a video:

which is cool.

I feel inclined to disagree with Inhabitat. Sony’s announcement:

Sugar is a naturally occurring energy source produced by plants through photosynthesis. It is therefore regenerative, and can be found in most areas of the earth, underlining the potential for sugar-based bio batteries as an ecologically-friendly energy device of the future.

Sony will continue its development of immobilization systems, electrode composition and other technologies in order to further enhance power output and durability, with the aim of realizing practical applications for these bio batteries in the future.

Inhabitat’s post closes with

So, is sugar the future for battery powered devices? It sure would be nice to if this could be the case.

I commented earlier that the central problem, as I see it, is the demand for energy (via our electronic entertainment fetishes)

I say “inclined” – this is related to food shortages, the Bio-fuel Thing. It doesn’t (yet) truly apply to sugar:

In spite of growing ethanol demand, there is plenty of sugar in the world. On May 24, 2007, the USDA said that 2007-2008 world sugar production will total 163.3 million tons, up from 161.3 million tons the previous year. World ending stocks are expected to increase 6.1 million tons to 45.1 million tons, or 29% of annual use. Brazil, the world’s largest producer, is expected to produce 32.85 million tons of sugar in 2007-2008, up from 31.60 the previous year. Beware: the USDA commonly revises its world data as far back as four years or more.

The International Sugar Organization increased its latest estimate of the 2006-2007 world production surplus to roughy 9 million tons. For 2007-2008, they expect record high production of 169.6 million tons to result in a production surplus of 10.8 million tons. On August 14, 2007, Czarnikow Sugar predicted that the world would produce a record high 11 million ton surplus in 2007-2008 after adding 10 million tons in 2006-2007. Sugar is a commodity that is grown on every continent, but Antarctica, and producers are responding aggressively with more production.

Sugar stocks

Bio-fuels still risk food crops. Ethanol, less so: I honestly think that the idea that pouring sugar into our petrol will somehow keep Jim Kunstler’s Happy Motoring going has been discredited. Then there is the political economy of sugar.

This is all premature. Hopefully not paranoid and angry (note to self: do not write posts while listening to Marc Maron). Nothing I’ve seen even identifies how much sugar is needed. For all I know we’ll be going to Starbucks, taking two for our coffee and one for our iPod. Who knows. Hassling technology so early is a little harsh. I just have a built-in negative reaction, in a world with the sorts of agricultural shortages so surely this close to hand, to all the new uses people are thinking up for food. I prefer crops to eat. Part of the reason I’m vegan is because cows are a waste of grain, for Cliff’s sake.


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