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Sony's Bio Battery Turns Waste Paper into Electricity

Published on July 30, 2016


When a glucose solution is poured into the white cubes, the Walkman begins to play. When an isotonic drink is poured in, a propeller starts to spin. In the summer of 2007, the Sony-developed bio battery was announced in newspapers, magazines, and TV reports, and evoked a strong response. Carbohydrates (glucose) are broken down to release energy and generate electricity.

This bio battery, which is based on mechanisms used in living organism, is not only friendly to the environment but also has great potential for use as an energy source. This prototype bio battery has achieved the world’s highest power output of 50 mW*2 when employed for a passive type*1 system. These research results were published at the 234th American Chemical Society National Meeting & Exposition in August 2007 and earned respect from an academic point of view.


Sony successfully demonstrated bio battery powered music playback with a memory type Walkman and passive speakers (which operate on power supplied by the Walkman) by connecting four bio battery units in series. The case of this bio battery, which is made from an organic plastic (polylactate), is designed to be reminiscent of a living cell. Plants create both carbohydrates and oxygen by photosynthesis from carbon dioxide and water. Animals take up those carbohydrates and oxygen and utilize them as an energy source and release carbon dioxide and water. Then this cycle starts again.

Since the carbon dioxide is recycled in this system, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere does not increase. If electrical energy could be directly acquired from this cycle, we could obtain more environmentally friendly energy than that from fossil fuels. Furthermore, renewable energy sources such as glucose (which is present in plants and therefore abundantly available) have an extremely high energy density. One bowl of rice (about 100 grams) is equivalent to 160 kilocalories, which corresponds to the energy about 64 AA alkaline dry cells. Therefore, this bio battery, which is based on Energy for activity, that is the ATP and thermal energy commonly used in the living organism, can be obtained from the exchange of the electrons and protons through these two enzymatic reactions. To take advantage of this living organism mechanism, the energy for activity from inside the organism must be removed outside the organism as electrical energy.

That is, when the electrons and protons move from enzyme to enzyme, it is necessary to extract just the electrons and divert them through a separate path. Thus Sony used an electron transport mediator so that electrons could be exchanged smoothly between the enzymes and the electrodes that are the entrance and exit to that detour. The principles of the bio battery are based on the energy conversion mechanism in living organisms. However, in order to create the bio battery, several technologies needed to be developed. These include immobilization of enzymes that are normally incompatible with carbon and metal electrodes, electrode structures, and electrolytes. mechanisms used in living organisms, is not only friendly to the environment but is also likely to be of practical use as an energy source. Sony has focused on these advantages since 2001 and has developed an electrical power generation device that uses mechanisms similar to those in living organisms.

The Mechanism behind Bio Battery

Like a conventional fuel cell battery, Bio Battery basically consists of an anode, cathode, electrolyte and separator. However, Bio Battery has certain specific characteristics. First, biological enzymes are used as catalysts for the anode and cathode. Second, enzymes and electronic mediators (which transfer electrons between enzymes, and between enzymes and electrodes) are fixed on the anode and cathode.

Previous attempts of Bio-fuel cells

Several potential applications of BFCs have been reported or proposed in the literature for implantable devices, remote sensing and communication devices as a sustainable and renewable power source. However, there are no BFC design formats or templates that allow for the production of a working device with a size on the order of 1 cc, which are needed for several “real world” applications. An enzyme based BFC is very attractive, however it has been shown that electron flow is too slow to make a viable fuel cell. This is due to the difficulty for enzymes to attain direct electrical contact with the electrodes of the cell and catalyze reactions effectively. The two largest obstacles with bio-fuel cells which must be overcome are increasing the power density and increasing the enzyme stability.

Bio Battery

In addition, understanding of the determinants governing the direct electron transfer reac- tion and mutation of enzymes to tune the redox potential, to improve DET kinetics, or to reduce the enzyme size are also very important challenges facing the commercialization of bio-fuel cells.15 To address these key issues, various enzyme immobilization methods have been attempted for constructing BFCs, such as adsorption, entrapment, and covalent attachment. Recent advances in bionanotechnology are promising to improve the performance and stability of immobilized enzymes beyond the scope of these traditional approaches.16 The large surface area pro- vided by nanomaterials for the attachment of enzymes will increase enzyme loading and possibly improve the power density of BFCs. Additionally, various nanostruc- tured materials have shown great potential for stabilizing enzyme activity, which can be further employed in improv- ing the lifetime of BFCs.

Packaging of Bio-Fuel Cells

One of the major challenges in bionanotechnology is merging new nanoscale fabrication tools with classical synthetic methods and delicate biomolecular building blocks to create materials with unique biomedical properties. In order to address the packaging requirement of the bio- fuel cells, it will be necessary to bridge the disciplines of biology, chemistry, materials science, semiconductor technology and engineering to find optimum packaging solutions for the challenges posed by these devices. Biological packaging can be defined as the sum total of the physical device, temperature regulating and monitoring systems, type of preservation solution, and storage protocol(s) necessary to maintain cells or tissues in a “state of suspended animation” during transport or storage.

The packaging issues connected with biological applications pose different set of challenges. The materials used in the medical device industry are extremely robust, and research shows that the failure rate is less than one in one million packages.43 To achieve the performance levels of this order, the reliability testing procedures for the devices has to be very stout, which is an added cost of the product. The big difference, however, between medical device packaging and other branches of the packaging industry is the role the regulators play. Primarily the medical device industry for the last 30 years has been shaped by the FDA which oversees all aspects of medical device packaging from material selection, design and manufacturing to label- ing and sterilization.

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