In Back to the Future, the Mr. Fusion cold fusion device could produce electricity from food scraps. Well, cold fusion is still some ways off (depending on who you talk to), but powering electronics with food may not be. Shelley Minteer, a Professor of Chemistry at Saint Louis University in Missouri, announced this Wednesday the development of a biofuel cell that could be powered by sugars or fats like those found in soda pop or vegetable oil. The device incorporates mitochondria, which are found within the cells of our own bodies, where they serve to produce energy from ingested calories. Are you listening, Doc Brown?
In their creation of the first-ever mitochondria biofuel cell, Minteer and her St. Louis team sandwiched a thin layer of mitochondria between two electrodes, one of which was gas-permeable. In a living organism, mitochondria use a chemical called pyruvate, formed from the digestion of sugar and fats, to produce another substance called adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which stores energy until the body needs it. They perform a similar function in the biofuel cell, which has successfully produced electricity using sugar and cooking oil byproducts as fuel.
"This is the first demonstration of a new class of biofuel cells," said Minteer. "When further developed, these devices have the potential for replacing disposable and rechargeable batteries in a wide variety of consumer electronics and other products. It is the first such device based on one of the microscopic parts of the billions upon billions of cells that make up the body."
Scientists have designed other types of biofuel cells in the recent past, including ones that produce electricity via enzymes and bacteria.