Just How Sweet Are Sugar-Powered Fuel Cells?

My blogging colleague Mark over at the often-fascinating site, Calorie Lab, wanted my thoughts about this article, "Sugar-Powered Fuel Cells Are Totally Sweet."

Hmm. Sugar to run fuel cells — not burn out our bodies? You’ve got my attention!

Actually, one of my very first reactions to this article about Sugar-Powered Fuel Cells had to do with the funding source. Isn’t this intriguing that the Department of Defense backed this study? Hmm, what does that say?

Anyhow, of course, in some universities, they’ve already been researching the use of sugar to run cars — and it’s even operational in some areas so it certainly makes sense that sugar could be used for fuel cells, too. If they’re biodegradable to boot, that’s a plus.

But I still have pressing concerns. First off, if you can power gadgets and gizmos with sugar, what does putting the stuff into your body do? Of course, we know — too many sweets and simple carbs could lead to a host of emotional and physical ailments.

Secondly, what would obtaining and processing all that sugar do to the environment? You have to bear in mind that somehow the sugar canes need to be grown and then chopped down. (Who would do that? Would low paid laborers do the work, and would they be living in conditions reminiscent of slavery? In fact, one recent report on Anderson Cooper 360 on CNN focused on just this very problem, as I pointed out here recently.)

And would processing sugar in large quantities harm the environment? Seriously, how much sugar is out there to get these fuel cells going.

In fact, one expert had much the same worries. "It’s a finite system; once the sugar runs out, so do the the batteries," says Russ Bianchi, managing director of Adept Solutions, Inc, a global product development firm based in Soquel, California.

When I have some time, I’m eager to learn more though. Is there a way to make environmentally safe fuel cells out of sugar and keep the sugar industry afoot in the meantime? Just a thought.