Energy storage is a necessity for contemporary life. We wouldn’t be able to have electric cars, laptops, or cell phones without them. Electrical energy needs to be stored and readily available for use in everything from consumer devices to transportation. The limited resources used to create current systems, such as the lithium-ion batteries used in many devices, result in environmental issues when disposed of.
The process of turning plant biomass into a substance known as “porous carbon” is one of the most promising ones for developing sustainable energy storage devices. It is possible to create “nanostructures” with a range of beneficial electrochemical properties out of this type of carbon in three dimensions.
Scientists are looking for materials to build environmentally friendly batteries as the demand for electric vehicles rises. The substance that gives trees their woodiness, lignin, is a strong contender.
According to Lauri Lehtonen, manager of Stora Enso’s lignin-based battery product, Linode, “Lignin is the glue in the trees that kind of glues the cellulose fibers together and also makes the trees stiff.”
A polymer called lignin includes carbon. Additionally, carbon is a fantastic material for the anode, a crucial part of batteries. Your phone’s lithium-ion battery almost probably features a graphite anode because graphite is a layered type of carbon.
The engineers at Stora Enso concluded that lignin could be extracted from the waste pulp that was already being produced at some of their facilities and processed to create a carbon substance for battery anodes. The business intends to start building batteries as early as 2025 and has partnered with the Swedish business Northvolt.
Wonders of Science
Porous carbon nanostructures can be selectively combined with small amounts of other atoms or chemical groups to form composites that could serve as electrodes or conducting components for capacitors or rechargeable batteries. Numerous straightforward methods, such as changing the temperature at which the material is generated, can be used to modify pore size and structure. Chiang and his co-authors examine research that is exploring these options utilizing a variety of plant products, including, but not limited to, trees, cotton, bamboo, beans, seeds, tea leaves, fruit peels, and fungi.
As the globe transitions away from fossil fuels, the number of additional gigawatt hours (GWh) needed yearly will increase from a few hundred in 2015 to a few thousand by 2030, according to management consulting firm McKinsey. The issue is that many of the industrial and mining operations used to produce the lithium-ion batteries on which we currently rely are harmful to the environment. These batteries also include several hazardous and challenging-to-recycle components. A lot of them come from nations with a bad track record for human rights.
Batteries and Charges
Cathode and anode, the positive and negative electrodes, respectively, between which charged particles known as ions move, are typically required for all batteries. According to Jill Pestana, a battery scientist and engineer currently employed as an independent consultant in California, when a battery is charged, lithium or sodium ions, for instance, travel from the cathode to the anode, where they settle like automobiles in a multi-story parking lot.
The ions move back to the cathode after releasing electrons when the battery is drained to power something like an electric car. The electrons then move through the wire in an electrical circuit, transferring energy to the vehicle.
“Byproducts Put To Use”
In a lab setting, Wyatt Tenhaeff of the University of Rochester in New York State has also created anodes built of lignin. He describes lignin as “very cool” because it is a byproduct with a wide range of possible applications. In tests, he and his coworkers discovered that they could create an anode with a self-supporting structure out of lignin without the use of glue or a copper-based current collector, which is a typical element in lithium-ion batteries. Although this would make lignin-derived carbon anodes less expensive, he doubts they will be able to outsell graphite anodes in terms of cost.
The issue of sustainability is another. According to Chelsea Baldino, a researcher at the International Council on Clean Transportation, no additional trees will be felled to create batteries as long as the lignin needed to make anodes is collected as a byproduct from the paper-making process.
Research is still in its early stages, so there is a long way to go before large amounts of plant-based materials are used in manufactured products. Converting the potential now being shown in the laboratory into reliable technologies is a significant problem. Chiang underlines that cooperation within the fields of materials science, chemical engineering, mechanical engineering, and environmental management will be necessary to meet the problems.