Wednesday, July 2, 2008

TGIW - Thank Glucose It's Wednesday About a year ago there was news in the electronics press that Sony had developed a sugar powered battery using bio-cells and enzymes that digest sugar. The Sony sugar battery develops 50 milliwatts of power. This is a very small amount of power so don't get too excited that this will be the green technology of the future. By comparison your house uses about one and a half kilowatts of electricity. This means that if you get hooked on the sweet taste of the Sony sugar battery so you will need 30,000 of these batteries to power your home. The battery kind of looks like a fuzzy dice I had hanging on my rearview mirror back when disco was king, GM was solvent, and gasoline cost less than a buck a gallon.

All this sweet talk got me thinking about sugar and how much energy this wonderful chemical contains. First one has to understand that sugar is a carbohydrate and that means it has carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen in its chemical structure (carbo for carbon and hydrate for hydrogen and oxygen). Gasoline is simply a hydrocarbon meaning it only has carbon and hydrogen atoms. Sugar has the chemical formula of C12H22O11. Remembering our chemistry this means sugar has 12 carbon atoms, 22 hydrogen atoms and 11 oxygen atoms. Gasoline by comparison is typically composed of 8 carbon atoms and 16 hydrogen atoms. As the sugar molecule is already partially oxidized by having 11 oxygen atoms, thermodynamics tells us that sugar will have a lower heating (fuel) value per pound than a non-oxidized molecule like gasoline. The insurance industry considers sugar as a combustible material because it is only partially oxidized and can therefore fuel a fire. Combusting a pound of sugar yields 7,100 BTUs or enough energy to heat your seventeen gallons of bathwater to a cozy 105 degrees Fahrenheit. Combusting a pound of gasoline would yield about 18,000 BTUs. Therefore, hypothetically speaking, if you could use sugar to fuel your vehicle you would have to carry two and a half times the mass of fuel to travel the same distance.

Next time you do some baking make sure to add six ounces of gasoline as a substitute for a pound of sugar. Only joking you will blow up half of the world if you do this! Don’t ask me how much Splenda is the equivalent BTUs of sugar as I only bake with sugar. I had always thought that sugar cane contained a greater amount of sugarthan do sugar beets. This is not so. Oregon State University reports that beets have 16% sugar versus 14% for cane. Cane sugar is grown in tropical climates allowing the plant to grow faster than beets that grow in colder climates. This is the reason that most of the sugar we eat is primarily produced from cane and not beets. This is like getting "beaten by a cane" which is standard punishment in Singapore for chewing gum even if the gum is sugarless.

There is a sugar association in the USA, who claims that sugar is a brain food, that it stops mold from growing, and that it heals wounds. Now we know how Neosporin is made, it is simply a mixture of sugarand petroleum jelly. Given that both of these ingredients are combustible, Neosporin should likewise be a combustible material, however I have not tried that experiment yet. This experiment was in part attempted in Adam Sandler’s latest movie Don’t Mess With Zohan. The results of the experiment in the movie at least indicate Neosporin will not self detonate, so don’t be afraid to use it on a minor cut or burn.