Technology editor Ben Potter brings you the latest in technology news, and how you can apply it to farming.
The Sweet Future of Energy
Jan 31, 2014
Pouring sugar in your gas tank is generally regarded as a horrible prank. (Although the damage potential of doing this been debunked, by the way.) But the cars of tomorrow might run on synthetic gasoline made from sugar, at least if Audi gets its way. The company has expanded its biofuel initiative by investing in Global Bioenergies, a French company with the capability to produce just such a fuel.
This fuel, called bio-isooctane, can be used as a direct replacement for gasoline without any modifications needed to your car. It also can be blended with regular gasoline, just like ethanol. Global Bioenergies can produce the fuel with corn, sugarcane, and even biomass like woodchips if the level of glucose is adequate.
As a proof-of-concept, the company hopes to produce up to 100,000 liters of gas annually once it has built two production facilities. This aligns well with Audi’s "e-fuel" strategy that also includes ethanol and biodiesel. It’s not the only car company exploring alternatives to fossil fuels, either – General Motors, for instance, has also invested heavily in ethanol, and other car manufacturers are developing electric options for their lineups.
That’s not the only energy endeavor where sugar’s a star of the show, either. At Virginia Tech, researchers are working on an energy-dense sugar battery. Their hope is to devise a product that could replace conventional batteries with a cheaper, refillable, biodegradable option.
"Sugar is a perfect energy storage compound in nature," says Y.H. Percival Zhang, an associate professor of biological systems engineering at Virginia Tech. "So it’s only logical that we try to harness this natural power in an environmentally friendly way to produce a battery."
Zhang’s findings were recently published in the journal Nature Communications. The sugar solution the battery holds is neither explosive nor flammable, and the enzymes and fuels that make up the device are all biodegradable. The battery is designed to be refilled in a manner similar to reusable ink cartridges.
These ideas and others must may sweeten the future of alternative energy.
Y.H. Percival Zhang, right, an associate professor of biological systems engineering in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and College of Engineering at Virginia Tech and Zhiguang Zhu, who received his degree in biological systems engineering in 2013, show their new sugar battery, which has an energy density an order of magnitude higher than others.