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iPhones of the future might be powered by sugar

Updated Dec 19th, 2018 9:14PM EST
MIT Sugar Battery iPhone
Image: YouTube

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While some scientists from MIT are busy reinventing intersections and looking at ways to completely remove traffic lights, others are studying ways to create better batteries for future devices. One of the theories currently being tested with plenty of success is using regular sugar to power a battery that would be as efficient as current “old school” batteries. However, don’t expect to recharge your iPhone with sugar anytime soon.

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MIT used table sugar to heat carbon nanotubes and produce energy. The result was a battery that produces almost the same output as the batteries found in modern electronics, such as smartphone and tablets. The scientists published their research in the Energy & Environmental Science journal.

The Thermopower Wave (TPW) battery runs on sugar which is used as a fuel to heat the nanotube banks. The heat pushes electrons down the tubes, and it’s then transformed into electric current, FastCoExist says.

“In this time-lapse series of photos, progressing from top to bottom, a coating of sucrose (ordinary sugar) over a wire made of carbon nanotubes is lit at the left end, and burns from one end to the other. As it heats the wire, it drives a wave of electrons along with it, thus converting the heat into electricity.”

Instead of sugar, other heat sources could be used as long as they’re as efficient or more efficient than sugar. Currently, efficiency for this unusual sugar battery is at 1%, which isn’t far from what other batteries can deliver, and it’s far better than what was possible when the phenomenon was first discovered.

The TPW has been used only to power LED lights for the time being, but that could change in the future. This battery technology might become more useful than regular batteries when it comes to powering ships used in space missions. The battery can store fuel indefinitely when it’s not being burned without losing power gradually, which is what happens with current batteries. Instead, sugar would be consumed only when is needed, like for a space probe returning to a live state when it approaches a certain destination.

Also, because the tech can be scaled down to sizes that aren’t available with other batteries, sugar batteries could be used to power wearable devices in the future, and other devices that continue to shrink down in size. Finally, these TPW batteries can also deliver huge bursts of power when appropriate.

The problem with this technique is that you’re going to have to have access to sugar at all times to replace the fuel once it’s depleted.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.