Deriving electrical energy from glucose and other carbohydrates under mild conditions is an important research objective because these biomolecules are abundant, renewable, and can provide 12 to 24 electrons per molecule, yielding substantial electrical power. It was previously observed that disubstituted viologens, salts of N,N'-disubstituted 4,4'-bipyridine, are able to oxidize glucose under alkaline conditions. Building on that initial result, the objective of this work was to understand and quantify the effectiveness and utility of viologens as catalysts for use in direct carbohydrate fuel cells.The extent that viologens oxidize carbohydrates, the conditions under which that oxidation occurs, and the mechanism for the oxidation were examined using oxygen-uptake and other methods. Viologens were found to catalytically oxidize carbohydrates extensively in alkaline solution. Viologens were also found to react with the enediol form of the carbohydrate, initiating carbohydrate oxidation with subsequent reduction of the viologen. If the viologen/carbohydrate ratio is low, electron transfer from the carbohydrate to the viologen becomes limiting and the carbohydrates undergoing oxidation rearrange into unreactive intermediates such as carboxylic acids and alcohols. At high catalyst ratios, excess viologen more rapidly oxidizes the carbohydrate and minimizes formation of unreactive intermediates. We also found that viologen polymers were more efficient than an equivalent concentration of monomers, suggesting that the higher localized concentration in polymeric viologen acts to efficiently oxidize carbohydrates and simulates high viologen/carbohydrate ratios.Monoalkyl viologens, aminoviologens, indigo carmine, and methylene blue were investigated by the method of cyclic voltammetry to inform their use as catalysts in the oxidation of carbohydrates. Redox potentials, diffusion coefficients, and heterogeneous electron-transfer rate constants were determined. Stability in alkaline solution and aqueous solubility were also examined in a semi-quantitative fashion. A comparison between the catalysts was made and viologens were found to be superior based on the examined parameters.The catalytic oxidation of carbohydrates by viologen was also examined using a fuel cell-like device. For the conditions in which a test cell was operated, oxidation efficiencies of up to 33% were observed, compared to previously reported values from about 2.5% to 80%. Anode polarization curves were obtained and used to determine the behavior of the viologen-controlled anode as a function of pH, viologen and carbohydrate concentration, and carbohydrate identity. pH was found to have a stronger effect on the performance at the anode for carbohydrates with a higher number of carbons than those with a lower number.



College and Department

Ira A. Fulton College of Engineering and Technology; Chemical Engineering



Date Submitted


Document Type





viologen, catalysis, carbohydrate oxidation, mechanism, fuel cell, voltammetry