Battery chemistry, considered settled science for most of a century, has got new energy in recent years, now that everything from pocket flashlights to electric vehicles is demanding cheap, lightweight, long-lasting portable power.
However, our battery-powered world is confronting an undeniable problem: spent batteries contain a liquid or paste-like electrolyte composed of sulfuric acid, hydrochloric acid, and other damaging chemicals—and next to nothing is being done to pull those batteries out of the waste stream and keep those chemicals from leaching into soils and water supplies.
As a result, solid electrolytes are all the rage in battery research. Ceramic electrolytes have shown particular promise but they’re brittle and tend to break under the stress of charging and discharging.
Now, researchers at Brown University and the University of Maryland have devised a solid electrolyte made from wood.
Specifically, the group took nanoscale fibers from wood and blended them with copper.
The new material was as much as 100 times better at conducting electricity than other solid electrolytes, in part because the copper atoms separate the fibers to create spaces that the developers call “ion superhighways” for the electrons in a current to travel freely and quickly from cathode to anode.
Because the fibers flex, they’re less likely to break than ceramic or metal solid electrolytes, could last longer, and be easier on the environment.
The wood electrolyte possibly could be made from wood waste.
TRENDPOST: The battery industry is undergoing a revolution that will bring safer, longer-lasting, environmentally less damaging power cells to market before this decade is over.