Virginia Tech researchers developed a battery that runs on sugar and has an unmatched energy density, a development that could replace conventional batteries with ones that are cheaper, refillable, and biodegradable. In as soon as three years, the new battery could be running some of the cell phones, tablets, video games, and other electronic gadgets that require power.

In America alone, billions of toxic batteries are thrown away every year, posing a threat to both the environment and human health. The new development could help keep hundreds of thousands of tons of batteries from ending up in landfills.

A non-natural synthetic enzymatic pathway strips all charge potentials from the sugar to generate electricity in an enzymatic fuel cell. Then, low-cost biocatalyst enzymes are used as catalysts instead of costly platinum, which is typically used in conventional batteries. Like all fuel cells, the sugar battery combines fuel — in this case, maltodextrin, a polysaccharide made from partial hydrolysis of starch — with air to generate electricity and water as the main byproducts.

Different from hydrogen fuel cells and direct methanol fuel cells, the fuel sugar solution is neither explosive nor flammable. The battery is also refillable, and sugar can be added to it much like filling a printer cartridge with ink.