An enzyme cascade strips electrons from glucose and turns it into electricity that could be used to power a mobile phone © NPG
Sugar is an excellent source of energy. Most living cells generate their energy from glucose by passing it down an enzymatic chain that converts it into different sugars. This enzymatic cascade provides the necessary energy to create an electrochemical gradient. This, in turn, can be used to power an enzyme that synthesises adenosine triphosphate (ATP) – the universal biological energy currency. However, extracting this energy from a sugar if you’re not a biological organism is tricky – short of combustion, which is impractical to power handheld electronics.
To fuel their battery the team used maltodextrin – a polymer made up of glucose subunits. They then created an entirely new synthetic enzymatic pathway to extract energy from the sugar. Using 13 different enzymes they were able to strip, on average, 24 electrons from a single glucose molecule, which can then be harnessed to power an electrical device.