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Swedish Scientists Develop Renewable, Recyclable Battery from Alfalfa and Pine Resin

Rechargeable lithium batteries, used in everything from portable electronic devices to electric cars to large-scale energy storage, are convenient and efficient but less than stellar when it comes to resource and environmental impacts. Now researchers at Uppsala University’s Ångström Laboratory have come up with an entirely new battery concept based on recovery and renewable biological material, with an energy content corresponding to that of current lithium-ion batteries.

The researchers say components of the battery are made from renewable organic materials from alfalfa and pine resin, and can be recycled with a low-energy input and non-hazardous chemicals, such as ethanol and water. The study appears this month in the scientific journal ChemSusChem.

‘We think our discovery can open several doors to more environment-friendly, energy-efficient solutions for the batteries of the future,’ says Daniel Brandell, Senior Lecturer at the Department of Chemistry at Uppsala University, and one of the researchers behind the idea.

Thanks to their high-energy content and versatility, lithium-ion batteries definitely have a role to play in our future energy system. But the researchers point out that today’s lithium batteries tax the world’s limited commercially extractable lithium resources, and it is difficult to recover the mineral from the inorganic materials used to make modern batteries. What is more, lithium batteries contain other, even rarer materials that are hard to replace and require large energy inputs and toxic chemicals for recovery.

Although present-day batteries contain non-renewable inorganic materials, this is not the first time batteries composed of renewable materials have been presented. But the recycling and recovery strategy is a wholly new concept: The scientists have shown that the lithium extracted from a spent battery can be used for a new battery — all that is needed is more biomaterial. The researchers say the second battery proved capable of delivering as much as 99 percent of the energy output from the first. With future modifications, this figure can very probably become even higher.

Brandell adds: “The use of organic materials from renewable sources makes it possible to solve several of the problems that would arise from a huge rise in the use of lithium batteries. But above all, it’s a major step forward that, to a high degree and in a simple, environment-friendly way, the lithium from these batteries can be recovered. These solutions are also potentially very cost-effective.”

This is just the latest in a string of recent bio-based advancements that could revolutionize batteries:

  • In May, Japanese startup Power Japan Plus launched a new technology that generates twice as much energy as a lithium ion battery and charges 20 times faster. Both the anode and the cathode of the Ryden dual carbon battery are made of carbon sourced from modified organic cotton fibers. The company says the new battery balances the need for cost-competitive energy storage that is energy-dense, reliable, safe and sustainable.
  • And in June, scientists at the University of Southern California (USC) announced they have developed a water-based organic battery that is long-lasting and built from inexpensive, eco-friendly components. The new battery uses no metals or toxic materials and is intended for use in power plants, where it can make the energy grid more resilient and efficient by creating a large-scale means to store energy for use as needed.

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