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Sugah Powah!

by Nomad Mon Mar 26th, 2007 at 10:23:04 AM EST

Couldn't resist the title.

Sugar:

In non-scientific use, the term sugar refers to sucrose (also called "table sugar" or "saccharose") -- a white crystalline solid disaccharide. Humans most commonly use sucrose as their sugar of choice for altering the flavor and properties (such as mouthfeel, preservation, and texture) of beverages and food. Commercially-produced table sugar comes either from sugar-cane or from sugar-beet.

Scientifically, sugar refers to any monosaccharide or disaccharide. Monosaccharides (also called "simple sugars"), such as glucose, store energy

Full stop. Energy? Energy? How about...

(From the diaries ~ whataboutbob)


...running your IPod on sugar?

Sugah Powah Beeeby!

Juicing up your cell phone or iPod may take on a whole new meaning in the future. Researchers at Saint Louis University in Missouri have developed a fuel cell battery that runs on virtually any sugar source -- from soft drinks to tree sap -- and has the potential to operate three to four times longer on a single charge than conventional lithium ion batteries, they say.

For consumers, that could mean significantly longer time to talk and play music between charges. The new battery, which is also biodegradable, could eventually replace lithium ion batteries in many portable electronic applications, including computers, the scientists say. Their findings were described at the 233rd national meeting of the American Chemical Society.

"This study shows that renewable fuels can be directly employed in batteries at room temperature to lead to more energy-efficient battery technology than metal-based approaches," says study leader Shelley Minteer, Ph.D., an electrochemist at Saint Louis University. "It demonstrates that by bridging biology and chemistry, we can build a better battery that's also cleaner for the environment."

Of course there is also this...

Consumers aren't the only ones who stand to benefit from this new technology. The military is interested in using the sugar battery to charge portable electronic equipment on the battlefield and in emergency situations where access to electricity is limited. These devices include remote sensors for detecting biological and chemical weapons. Devices could be instantly recharged by adding virtually any convenient sugar source, including plant sap, Minteer says.

(because...)

snip snip

Funding for this study was provided by the U.S. Department of Defense.

But still...

Like other fuel cells, the sugar battery contains enzymes that convert fuel -- in this case, sugar -- into electricity, leaving behind water as a main byproduct. But unlike other fuel cells, all of the materials used to build the sugar battery are biodegradable.

So far, Minteer has run the batteries on glucose, flat sodas, sweetened drink mixes and tree sap, with promising results. She also tested carbonated beverages, but carbonation appears to weaken the fuel cell. The best fuel source tested so far is ordinary table sugar (sucrose) dissolved in water, she says.

"Jim?"

"Yes dear?"

"Would you mind putting some lemonade in the television? Oprah is on in five."

Woot!!!!

I'm in the need of a power bar now.

Display:
"....Oprah is on in five."

"Just a minute.  I'm working on...er...an idea!"

Great pics!

The image which came to me: of people pouring their soft drinks into their i-pods [okay, not their fizzy drinks] reminded me of the flux capacitor's re-fuelling strategy: the Mr. Fusion Home Energy Reactor.



Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.

by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Mon Mar 26th, 2007 at 09:39:40 AM EST
Stop that. Don't you know that new technology can have no solutions for energy shortages? We're doomed to the end of civilisation, and we can't have people finding solutions.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Mon Mar 26th, 2007 at 09:43:30 AM EST
Right. Except, the sugar comes from what agriculture, with which non-sun energy inputs? This process solves not energy generation as much as energy portability, which is great and not to be considered useless in any way, but does not give larger generating capacity.
by someone (s0me1smail(a)gmail(d)com) on Mon Mar 26th, 2007 at 10:37:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The comments section of theoildrum.com is filled with people who very much want society to collapse and would agree with colman's snark (of course most won't admit it publicly).

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Mon Mar 26th, 2007 at 03:52:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
the sheer negativity on that site drives me away whenever I wander in.

As for sugar--> battery.  Isn't it easier to just use the sun to directly charge a battery instead of growing sugar cane/beets.  Processing it.  Distributing it et.  Talk about lousy eroi.

by HiD on Mon Mar 26th, 2007 at 08:15:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
For portable electronics the appeal here is the energy density provided by fuel cells. Mediocre EROEI on fuel for portable electronics is not a big deal when lighting and especially automobiles account for orders of magnitude more energy use. The amount of energy I use for all my portable devices (excluding the laptop) is probably equivalent to a few gallons of gas a year.

I do think solar chargers are a smart idea, though, although it's not the kind of convenience most people are looking for. Ever seen these? I should whip up a DIY version.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Mon Mar 26th, 2007 at 08:36:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I guess carrying around sugar beats carrying around a butane cylinder but the whole thing looks pretty silly to me.   Regular plug in chargers are pretty convenient too.  Not to mention a spare battery.

Hard to call it some great breakthrough in renewable energy is my only point.  Neat idea.  nil effect on our coming energy supply upheaval.

by HiD on Mon Mar 26th, 2007 at 09:24:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But man, it takes an effort to actually cheer this crowd. Before we know it we end up as a sullen bunch.

It's a fair point to ask questions about internal costs.

So what I want to know is:

  1. What are the internal costs to make 4 - 5 lithium batteries (mining the lithium, processing it, and casting it into a battery)?
  2. What are the projected internal costs to create one sugar battery?

What I think it can solve -
  1. Environmental waste - because battery recycling is not full proof. You know, I get my kicks out of smart technology when it's just biodegrabdable. Plastic is a curse of this world.
  2. Perhaps also some coal-generated electricity - if for instance the Li batteries of mobile phones can be replaced with sugary batteries, the world is finally rid of these phone chargers stuck in the socket that dribble energy into waste.
by Nomad on Tue Mar 27th, 2007 at 02:10:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Just saw this.

One hundredth of one percent?? Guess they're not closing down a plant because of that...

by Nomad on Wed Mar 28th, 2007 at 02:18:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That's probably less than the energy needed to unplug the damn charger...

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Wed Mar 28th, 2007 at 05:05:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
gassed up!  With sugar!  

What energy problem?  :[

The Fates are kind.

by Gaianne on Tue Mar 27th, 2007 at 03:11:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Funding for this study was provided by the U.S. Department of Defense.

As is much research in the US.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Mon Mar 26th, 2007 at 09:44:12 AM EST
Which I don't mind, it's the effective public subsidization of the private enterprises that take the research and create commercial applications with it that bothers me.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Mon Mar 26th, 2007 at 03:50:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
including the internet <heh>

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Tue Mar 27th, 2007 at 09:48:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Wow, and just imagine the health benefits if people use coke for the tv and laptop. Health will improve as obesity and its secondary effects will go down, and even better health cost will diminish.

However, what to do with coke light. There is one advantage that I can see. As I have read, sorry no link, that one of the by-products of the metabolic breakdown of aspartam is formaldehyd - which in my time was used for conservation of corpses at the Anatomical Institute - those who want to can start to mummify their body for the after world.

by Fran on Mon Mar 26th, 2007 at 09:52:52 AM EST
Just logged onto your article...with a plate of apricot pie on a plate in fron of me. Still waitng for the ideas...but love the article (the pie was okay...)

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Mon Mar 26th, 2007 at 10:24:44 AM EST
Having now got down to nil sugar in my tea, and surviving at home (with lots of cooking) on about 1 kilo a year, I feel I have done my bit for the White Power innovation.

At the beginning of the 18th century, per capita consumption of sugar in England was still only about 4lbs - less than two of today's packets of sugar; by the beginning of the 19th century consumption had soared to 18lbs per person per year. Sugar, produced by slaves and imported from the colonies, fuelled the industrial revolution. In the form of sweetened tea and jam, it fed the factory workers of the 19th century. By the 1890s, the price greatly reduced after the abolition of slavery by the removal of free-trade barriers, it had become a necessity in the labouring diet: consumption touched 90lbs per person per year.

Today, boys and girls in this country get 16-17% of their daily calories from processed sugars when the maximum recommended by experts, if you want to avoid diet-related diseases, is 10%. (There is no physiological need to eat any refined sugars at all.) By the age of seven children are eating an average of half a kilo of sugary foods a day. By the age of 15 boys typically have a habit of nearly 80lbs per year, the equivalent of 1,000 cans of cola or 11,800 sugar cubes, and that's only counting what gets owned up to in food diaries. Taking into account under-reporting, they are matching or exceeding the consumption of impoverished manual workers of the 19th century whose requirement for calories was determined by 14 hours or more of physical labour a day.



You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Mon Mar 26th, 2007 at 12:52:03 PM EST
boys and girls in this country get 16-17% of their daily calories from processed sugars

As a targeted market segment children can be sold over-sugared products and then, after they've developed diabetes, they become a life-long market for pharmaceutical insulin.

It's a Win-Win.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Mon Mar 26th, 2007 at 04:39:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
When the sugar content of one tiny jar of processed commercial baby food is the equivalent of 10 lumps of sugar, it is little wonder that kids get that behavour early on.

When I was a boy, we had ration books mumble mumble good old days mumble what's the word coming to mumble...

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Mon Mar 26th, 2007 at 06:40:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Hey, my maths head is...cough cough...But I don't think I could actually fit 10 sugar cubes into a jar of baby food--and that'd be pure sugar.  Is it that they're not dissolved?

Also, at 500g of sugar a day being 16 or so % of daily intake, that makes the average child's food intake 3 kgs a day.  It sounds a lot to me, weight-wise, but I don't weigh my food.  Am I just underestimating how much (in weight) we eat?

Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.

by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Mon Mar 26th, 2007 at 06:54:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You're looking at the thing from the giant's point of view. To a baby, those tiny jars are like 5 gallon paint cans ;-)

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Tue Mar 27th, 2007 at 02:47:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yeah, but each sugar cube is the size of a small football.  Can you fit all those footballs in the jar?

(You know, I think I'm wrong, but 3 kilos of food a day for a seven year old?  Let's see

Bowl of cereal
Fruit snack
Lunch (plate of pasta)
Afternoon snack (flap jack?)
Evening meal (veggies and noodles)
Evening snack (banana?)

= 3 kilos of food?

Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.

by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Tue Mar 27th, 2007 at 06:20:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
When I was a boy, we had ration books mumble mumble good old days mumble what's the word coming to mumble...

And you end eating Marmite...

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet

by Melanchthon on Mon Mar 26th, 2007 at 07:17:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
80lbs?, 90lbs?. Wow. I pay zero attention to the health value of what I eat. I also go through ridiculous amounts  of sweetened drinks (coffee, tea, chocolate, lemonade etc.), and I like the occasional desert, but I don't eat anywhere near that much sugar. At least I don't think so.
by MarekNYC on Mon Mar 26th, 2007 at 05:11:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I would like to see an energy balance....

Just to know the final source of the energy...

ina ny case.. I doubt it...

I would bet more on algae than on sugar... but this is my personal take.

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Mon Mar 26th, 2007 at 02:13:13 PM EST
pretty straightforward.  It's a sugar powered fuel cell.  Enzymes eating sugar etc

original energy source is the sun

by HiD on Mon Mar 26th, 2007 at 08:19:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You miss the energy spent on harvesting (tractors, machinery...) and to move it around,

I would like to know the ratio of how much energy can produce compared with the energy investment (not taking into account the sun, of course)

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Tue Mar 27th, 2007 at 05:32:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
get by with nil energy from outside (net).  Burn cane stalks (bagasse) for electricity production and heat to concentrate the juice.  I suspect they buy liquid fuels for the equipment operations, but I'm going to bet a decent sum the electricity export is greater than the machinery usage.

Our entire island was once powered via bagasse burning.

by HiD on Wed Mar 28th, 2007 at 03:03:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Just saw this

One hundreth of one percent?? Guess they're not closing down a plant because of that...

by Nomad on Wed Mar 28th, 2007 at 02:16:17 AM EST
Should have gone up.
by Nomad on Wed Mar 28th, 2007 at 02:19:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
hmmm seems to me all these biofuel based solutions tend to beg the fundamental question of a limited agriculture-based energy budget per annum.  humans need to eat; food is derived from biomass; and if humans eating becomes an activity directly competitive with other (more affluent) humans consuming electricity or liquid fuel generated from or stored in biomass, then it seems a pretty good bet that even more people will starve than are starving today.

the current destruction of Indonesian forests for wildcat palm oil plantations, and of Brasilian forests for soy and sugar plantations, are cases in point -- as is the spike in corn prices in Mexico where US corn which once flooded the market (for various greedhead and controlfreak reasons) is now being diverted to ethanol production Stateside.

there's only so much hectarage under cultivation, and much of that is only under cultivation because of cheap liquid fuels, cheap power for draining aquifers to irrigate normally-arid land, cheap synthetic soil "amendments" [now there's a euphemism, kill your soil and call it an amendment] etc.  so to me, there's a kind of Perpetual Motion flavour to the notion that sugar crops (for example) can substitute for various vehicle fuel and electric generation functions now filled by fossil fuels, when we're putting more than one fossil fuel calorie into each calorie of sugar or oil crop produced.  any ratio of 1 or higher makes this a chump's game... unless of course we embrace the deliberate starvation of millions (billions?) of our planetary fellow-citizens as our official energy policy... i.e. eliminate the hungry mouths that compete with our SUVs, TVs, battery powered gizmos, etc. for biomass energy.

not that I've any objection to the Sugar Battery in principle -- it sounds really nifty and I'd sure like to play with one (and throw it in the compost heap when  it wears out) -- but in context it seems to fit neatly into the popular fantasy of "biz as usual, just substitute Miracle Green Product X and nothing else has to change" -- it's another proposed diversion of agricultural output from people-food to machine-food;  so without a serious demand reduction plan to bring the total annual demand (all sinks) on planetary biomass down to (preferably below) replacement rate...  it's still loan-kiting rather than balancing the books...

writing in haste and hence not too coherent...

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Wed Mar 28th, 2007 at 09:34:37 PM EST
I'm going to sound one hopeful note here, in a attempt briefly to defy my Kassandra nickname:  the available hectarage in the US, at least, is greater than commonly reported.
Using satellite and aerial imagery, research scientists from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration have calculated that approximately 162,000 square kilometers of the United States is covered in turf -- an area roughly three times larger than any irrigated crop currently under cultivation. And lawns are thirsty, consuming approximately 270 billion gallons of water a week in the U.S. -- enough to irrigate 327,000 square kilometers of organic vegetables.

For Maschka, lawns represent a paradox, having the outward appearance of vitality when in fact most of the microorganisms that support plant growth have been killed off. Lawns are fed something on the order of 10 times more pesticides and herbicides than commercial crops, he adds.

weirdly biased Inter Press article nevertheless contains a few useful numbers

the language above is a bit weaselly -- 3x larger than the area of any one irrigated crop means still much smaller than the total farmland area.  but given the enormously greater productivity per acre of small polyculture operations, Americans might just be able to have their vegetables and feed their machines on biomass (a smaller set of machines and more efficient ones) as well.  but given J Diamond's notes on cultural intertia and its ability to outweigh survival considerations, and the documented track record of Empire in stealing resources from the periphery rather than tightening its belt at home, what are the odds on replacing trophy turf with food production?

also it must be admitted that N Am is sparsely populated compared to other areas of the world, and hence has fecklessly built sprawl developments in some of its best farmland (meaning that reclaimed suburban lawns could become very productive food gardens).  I doubt that wasted (turfed) land is so prevalent on other more densely inhabited continents...

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Wed Mar 28th, 2007 at 09:45:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
their fantasies of perpetual motion, there are indeed enough resources for survival.  

But.  That land is biologicaly dead, and will have to be revived--this can take a few years.  

Organic gardening has lower yields.  So the food that can be produced will be needed--AS FOOD.  

Damage to aquifers suggests that much of the Midwest--currently important farmland--will go to desert.  I almost said revert, but in the past it was dry grassland.  With global warming, it will probably collapse further than that.  

The moment you start thinking organic fuel sources, you realize that all internal combustion vehicles are absurdly heavy, and absurdly inefficient.  Anything bigger than a motorbike is simply nuts.  Since trucks are desirable, there may be motivation to redesign them with less dead weight.  But there will be no quick fixes here.  

The Fates are kind.

by Gaianne on Thu Mar 29th, 2007 at 12:17:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm gonna take issue with this later in more detail, i.e. the statement "organic gardening has lower yields".  because that's a meaningless statement without specifying "lower yields per what."  if we say "lower yields per hour of labour invested" then it's indisputable that factory ag -- where vast machines are controlled by lone technomanagers and hundreds of thousands of acres of monocrop exist as a desert devoid of human or animal presence -- produces more biomass per hour of paid human labour.  but that's only because fossil energy slaves (and slave labour overseas in various manufacturing and mining sectors) are filling in the gap.

per hectare, organic methods with polyculture, i.e. intelligent gardening, yield more than factory monocrop.  per gallon of water, more yield with susti/organic  techniques.  per gallon of fuel, more yield with organic.  and what are we running short of?  land, water, fuel.  no shortage of people.  so why are we so obsessed with optimising output per hour of labour?  [one theory:  because capital is obsessed with accumulating wealth at the top and not paying workers at the bottom, and the way we think about every problem under the sun is now infected by the reasoning of capital.]

more on this later -- gotta do some other stuff;  my point is that we have every reason to doubt the mantra oft repeated by agribusiness, that "organic methods simply don't yield enough to feed people."  that's the slogan of those whose lives are dedicated to extirpating organic methods and replacing them with highly lucrative chemical dependency and the death-spiral of diminishing returns.  the worse your soil gets, the more their methods damage your land, the more you "need" their products.  they can't lose :-)

off-the-cuff grab bag of references to follow up:  Jeavons on productivity figures for chemical vs organic ag, McKibben's latest (Enough) which details yield figures for Indian and Asian smallholders before and after switching to sustainable/organic methods;  Salatin on polyculture and productivity;  the Butser Experiment (which iirc overturned some smug C20 assumptions about the "inferiority" of ancient wheat cultivation methods);  any of the current permaculture literature.  plenty of productivity figures.  reports of between 10x and 50x higher yields per hectare than industrial monocrop... but even if it were only 2x, it still would give the lie to the anti-organic mantra :-)

at present -- with evidence still rolling in -- industrial ag seems to have been extremely productive of dead bees.  what an achievement, wrecking the pollination cycle nationwide...


The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Thu Mar 29th, 2007 at 02:06:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I know of three hypotheses, credible, but different. (Two different insecticides, and bt GE.)  

There are no bees native to North America.  But many important plants are imports, and the bees are necessary.  

Honey is far away my favorite sweetener.  

Global warming will probably finish off sugar maples, which are already caving under unknown stress.  

The Fates are kind.

by Gaianne on Thu Mar 29th, 2007 at 03:37:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And you're at least the third (if I didn't miscount) to raise that question. HiD says above it can be done with zero inputs from the electricity net - I don't know anything about that, though. Something to look into...

Of course you take the discussion one fundamental big step further - though I was still thinking babysteps. I have been piqued by the waste of lithium/cadmium/lead/etc batteries of today every time I drop my neatly knotted plastic bag with batteries into the recycling bin in the supermarket, thinking - there must be some better way than this failed compartmentalisation...

by Nomad on Thu Mar 29th, 2007 at 02:23:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
hmmm well I have a battery charger that can recondition standard alkalines as well as charging NIMHs (my battery chemistry of choice).  so I seldom throw away a battery, until its internal chemistry is truly fried.  agree completely that putting them in the trash or even sending to the recycler is a dirty feeling.  I'd love to be pouring a bit of sugar water into some kind of bio-electric pod instead.  but in the meantime...  how to minimise the toxic battery waste?

I flatly refuse to buy any pocket tech with a NiCad, LiOn, or other exotic proprietary cell in it -- if it doesn't run on a stock AAA, AA (etc) cell, I won't buy it.  proprietary battery packs are just marketing opportunities disguised as technology, aka landfill waiting to happen.  I was fooled by NiCads when they first hit the market a long time ago, but they were a great disappointment in practise;  that was a useful lesson.  they were just toxic-waste-in-waiting (kinda like a nuke plant, but very very small).

the only exception to the rule is my cell phone (no one makes one that runs on commodity cells, goramit) and of course laptops (grrrr) with their stupid planned-obsolescence batt packs.  but my small mac powerbook will just about run off a single flexible solar panel or any 12vdc source, so it should be manageable after the batt pack fulfils its marketing function.  my strategy with the cell phone is to refuse to upgrade or replace it.  so far it's been working fine for over 6 years and I see no reason to throw it away...

btw, the only mp3 player I could find that runs off a standard AA cell, is a standard usb mass storage device, is not crippled by DRM BS or shackled to a specific OS, and plays ogg as well as mp3, is a 2GB Korean minimarvel called a Cowon.  I hope it will last a decade;  I wouldn't trade it for 10 iProds :-)  in fact I'm tempted to buy a spare and tuck it away in a safe place, as they are no longer made (gee wonder why) and may represent the apex of this little technology niche.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Thu Mar 29th, 2007 at 06:21:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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