If scientists at Oita University in Japan have their way, fuel cells could be getting sweeter.

The researchers are working on ways to use sugar to make a new kind of fuel cell. The chemists have built an experimental fuel cell that is powered with biomass-derived glucose (see press release).

The Japanese researchers aren't alone in their quest to perfect a sugar cell. Earlier this year, scientists at Saint Louis University also developed a sugar-based fuel cell that can run on glucose, flat sodas and sweetened drink mixes. That cell can supposedly operate up to four times longer on a single charge than conventional lithium-ion batteries.

By comparison, the experimental fuel cell out of Japan has produced several hundred millivolts of electricity. It uses a process similar to that of photosynthesis to absorb energy from sunlight, which then converts glucose into hydrogen to power the cell.

Powering fuel cells with sugar could help solve one of the technologies' problems: the transportation and distribution of the more commonly used fuels, hydrogen and methanol, needed to power them.

But plenty of other challenges have limited the technology so far, including heat and waste management, size and weight issues and high costs (see Talk the Talk: Fuel Cells).