Batteries are an important part of our increasingly mobile world. We depend on rechargeable batteries to power our phones, laptops, and navigational systems. A dead battery can throw a real wrench in your day, forcing you to become a poacher of energy, hooking up to outlets in odd locations, just to keep your bars up.
All these batteries, even the rechargeable ones, require vast amounts of metal, which is far from a renewable resource. So scientists in Europe have been working on an alternative that could be made from a material that’s currently being wasted. The result is a battery cathode made out of lignin, a waste product in the paper-making process–essentially a wood-powered battery.
In their study, Researchers from Poznan University of Technology in Poland and Linköping University in Sweden describe how a class of organic compounds known as quinones allows the lignin derivatives to shed a proton and store this electric charge in its place. The polypyrrole is able to hold on to the loose proton until the charge is released and the proton returns to the quinone group of the lignin derivative.
In layman’s terms this means using the lignin as an insulator and polypyrrole as a conductor allows for a chemical reaction that will create and hold an electric charge.
Although it’s far from commercialization, this wood-powered battery would perform two important functions: turn paper industry waste into a valuable resource, and reduce the amount of non-renewable resources that must be consumed by the battery industry. “We have demonstrated interpenetrating networks of lignosulfonate and polypyrrole that can be used for charge and energy storage,” note the researchers in the journal Science. “The use of the renewable biopolymer should lead to low-cost electrodes with improved safety and nontoxicity, operating in water. There is ample room for further developments to improve charge density and capacitance by searching through the universe of lignins.”
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