This paper reports the development of a fuel cell consisting of a vanadium flow battery in which the vanadium ions are reduced by sugar (from a carbohydrate) to oxidation state +3 on one side of a membrane, and are oxidized to state +5 on the other side by oxygen. The theoretical upper limit to the conversion efficiency of the energy in sugar by this method under standard conditions is 54%. We have obtained efficiencies up to 45% in our laboratory tests. This way of using biomass for electricity production avoids the Carnot cycle losses in heat engines. (c) 2005 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.