The battery of the future might run on sugar


October 2, 2012

Researchers from the Tokyo University of Science have found pyrolyzed sucrose to be a surprisingly effective material for the anode of sodium-ion batteries (Image: Diginfo)

Researchers from the Tokyo University of Science have found pyrolyzed sucrose to be a surprisingly effective material for the anode of sodium-ion batteries (Image: Diginfo)

Researchers at the Tokyo University of Science have turned to sugar as part of a continuous effort to control Japan's growing import costs associated with building lithium-ion batteries. It seems that sugar may be the missing ingredient for building rechargeable batteries that are more robust, cheaper, and capable of storing more energy.

Lithium-ion batteries are ubiquitous in portable electronics, but concerns over rapidly growing demands for lithium – a metal that is mainly found in politically sensitive regions such as Bolivia, Chile, Argentina and China – have pushed countries like Japan to try and develop viable alternatives for a cheap, high-performance rechargeable battery.

Sodium-ion batteries have been put forward as one of the possible successors to lithium-ion technology. Among their advantages, they promise to be more durable and cheaper to manufacture. However, being in an early developmental phase, their performance isn't currently quite up to par.

Associate Professor Shinichi Komaba and his team have been working on narrowing this performance gap and recently discovered that sucrose – the main constituent of sugar – can be easily made into a cheap and effective material for the anode of a sodium-ion battery.

The team heated sucrose to temperatures of up to 1,500 °C (2,700 °F) in a controlled oxygen-free atmosphere, a process known as pyrolysis. The result is a hard carbon powder that, when embedded in a sodium-ion battery, can achieve a storage capacity of 300mAh, 20% higher than conventional hard carbon.

While this is just one more step toward developing an effective sodium-ion battery, Komaba predicts that his group could achieve their final objective of a commercially competitive battery in around five years.

The video below, provided by Diginfo, is a short recap of the findings.

Sources: Diginfo, Stanford University

About the Author
Dario Borghino Dario studied software engineering at the Polytechnic University of Turin. When he isn't writing for Gizmag he is usually traveling the world on a whim, working on an AI-guided automated trading system, or chasing his dream to become the next European thumbwrestling champion. All articles by Dario Borghino

Hi Dario, Could you please explain in which way Chile is a politically sensitive region?

Victor Bustos

Um...hellllllo Japan!

Burning sugar to produce carbon releases copious amounts of CO2. Are these naive researchers living in a cave to try to justify, albeit lamely, the existence of their little sandbox?

Wouldn't their time be better spent, say, looking for a cure for cancer?


"The team heated sucrose to temperatures of up to 1,500 °C (2,700 °F) in a controlled oxygen-free atmosphere, a process known as pyrolysis." It is not just "burning sugar".

Tekkaman Blade

It would be an awesome feat to use solar concentrating optics for the heat required to manufacture the energy intensive renewable energy parts, such as batteries and solar cells. Nevertheless, I would assume that the amount of energy that ANY rechargeable battery could store, after adding up all the cycles, would far outweigh the initial energy expense. One needs to do an accurate energy audit before assuming EROEI is less than a favorable ratio, such as 10 to 1 (such as solar, is). Even 2 to 1 is still twice as good as well, nothing, after the biosphere is altered and economic possibilities ruined by fossil fueled depletion...

Such new advances make possible that any region in the world need not be turned into politically sensitive ones, caused by lack of proper resource distribution of elements (such as lithium).

Therefore, with science (and God?), cures for such things as cancer and countless other necessary social endeavors, could be more readily focused upon and achieved in the absence of resource WARS, economic RUIN and GLOBAL warming due to continued lack of action to implement (the already TECH ready) clean energy mass production via machine automation, 24/7 for pennies on the dollar. The future is up to you, and it WON'T stay the same...

Robert Bernal

solutions4circuits the answer to your question is no. Would your time be better spent looking for a cure for cancer?


300 mAhr/gm? or what?

John Peloquin

@solutions4circuits Heating sugar in an oxygen free environment is unlikely to produce CO2 copious or other


There is no lithium shortage - but there was a widely believed piece of misinformation claiming this. Here's a brief article by a geologist who clarifies that lithium is truly abundant.


Sodium is far more abundant and accessible. I hope there are dozens of research activities on sodium batteries, using abundant and non-toxic elements such as iron and aluminum. Reasonable power to weight ratios and storage capacities would make electric vehicle technologies leap forward! Also, grid and local energy storage systems would become truly cost effective and useful. Cheap energy storage capacity in all sizes is the holy grail of the power generation industry!

Dr Dick

The statements regarding scarcity of resources, whether it be oil, lithium, gas or whatever is in context of how technological and economical viable it is right now to mine and continue mining parts of the world. Extracting oil from tar sands and deep sea floors wasn't feasible some time ago, until the price for the commodity rose sharply - even in an economic depression. New discoveries of resources and newer technologies also play a role. But even if there is an abundant lithium resource well deep beneath the surface, it doesn't automatically mean the mining companies will immediately fawn over it. At least, not for the time being.

Recoverable oil reserves now accessible due to unprecedented rapid melting of sea ice is another example.

@solutions4circuits, even if CO2 was emitted from the pyrolysis of sucrose, it won't matter. Sucrose is a renewable resource. This technology should be embraced, as it uses simpler, abundant resources. Another step forward in battery technology. I'm excited to live in this time. Looking at its specific power, you probably won't see this in battery powered electric vehicles however.

The process that involves anthropogenic CO2 emissions here, is the high temperatures needed for pyrolysis of sucrose. That heat is indirectly produced by mostly burning fossil fuels.

Fretting Freddy the Ferret pressing the Fret

solutions4circuits and Tekkaman Blade Burning something and creating CO2 requires oxygen. CO2 is a carbon atom combined with two oxygen atoms.

If you heat something that is carbon rich (like sugar), heat it in an oxygen free chamber (without oxygen being available), then there is no oxygen to form CO2 and mostly all you get is the C (a bunch of carbon in the chamber) and water vapor.


John238. First, I must say that I am not a chemist, but the formula of sucrose - C12H22O11 ( - contains allot of oxygen. Although, theoretically, a single molecule of sucrose, having 12 atoms of C, also has enough hydrogen to form 11 pure molecules of H2O-water only, - in practice output could be much more complex than just quite innocent CO2, that everyone is talking about here. But I wish I am wrong and you are write!

Oleg Fialkovsky
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