Making a fuel cell from sugar and weed killer sounds like something from an episode of “MacGyver,” which featured an ever-resourceful secret agent who could create life-saving gadgets from bits of twine and bubble gum … but it’s actually a real achievement by researchers at Brigham Young University (BYU).
Chemistry professor Gerald Watt and his research team discovered they could tap the energy in sugar by using a common herbicide as a catalyst.
“Carbohydrates are very energy rich,” said Watt. “What we needed was a catalyst that would extract the electrons from glucose and transfer them to an electrode.”
Watt (whose great-great-uncle James Watt invented the steam engine) and his colleagues report on their findings in the October issue of the Journal of The Electrochemical Society.
Using a cheap and abundant weed killer could prove a boon to the development of carbohydrate-based fuel cells. Currently, hydrogen-based fuel cells platinum — a cost-prohibitive precious metal — as a catalyst.
The next step for the BYU team is to ramp up the power of their carb-based fuel cell through design improvements. In their published study, the researchers reported experiments that yielded a 29 per cent conversion rate, which equates to the transfer of seven 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 Dean Wheeler, lead faculty author of the paper and a chemical engineering professor in BYU’s Fulton College of Engineering and Technology. “Now we’re trying to get the power density higher so the technology will be more commercially attractive.”
Since they wrote the paper, the researchers have managed to double the power performance of their prototype and continue working to boost the energy output.