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New Mitochondria Fuel Cells Could Generate Electricity From Sugar or Fats


Mitochondria, also called “the cells’ powerhouses”, may one day replace batteries as we know them. Scientists from the University of Missouri invented and developed a new fuel cell based on these also called “organelles” (the internal organs of cells). The fuel cell is able to feed on sugars and fats, just like mitochondria in the organisms do.

“This is the first demonstration of a new class of biofuel cells,” said Shelley Minteer, Ph.D., who presented the report. “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.”

Naturally-existing mitochondria use a chemical formed from the digestion of sugar and fats, called pyruvate, and transforms it into another chemical, ATP (adenosine triphosphate). The latter is an energy storage medium that is used when needed by the cell. The report published at the 240th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society says that the mitochondria in a typical person produce and recycle an amount of ATP equal to the person’s body weight.

This phenomenon gave scientists the idea of using fats and sugars for producing electricity, just like other biological fuel cells, which use bacteria to produce hydrogen, for example. Soon you’ll be able to charge your laptop’s reservoir with soda pop or vegetable oil and make it run for another few hours.

The scientists even tested a prototype of the first mitochondria fuel cell, made of a thin layer of mitochondria sandwiched between two electrodes, including a gas-permeable one, which produced electricity from sugar or cooking oil.

The beautiful part is that we’re going to use materials that would normally pollute the environment and transform them into energy, just like our organism does with the food we eat. Again, mimicking the biological systems is not a child’s play, but it sure is interesting and the phenomenon seems to have been invented hundreds of millions of years ago. Still it’s good we got to understand how nature deals with energy so easily.

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  1. Magnificant discoveries. Is there any more research done in this field to develop the technique after the year 2010?


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