“Wooden” Batteries May Be the Greenest Battery Yet
Batteries, no matter how we say that they are not really that safe for the environment, are still important in our overall green technology strategy. They’re the primary energy source of EV’s, and are the main storage medium for solar and wind systems.
Also, there are already several methods that are now currently in use to make batteries less harmful to the environment. In fact, there is a newly developed method that would probably make it “blend” to our natural surroundings, and this process involves the use of one of the greenest materials that we could ever use: wood.
Two scientists from different universities, Grzegorz Milczarek (of Poland’s Poznan University of Technology) and Olle Inganas (of Sweden’s Linköping University) thought of using wood, or more specifically, waste from paper mills, as the cathode of their new battery design. The concept came from the fact that lignin, a major component of wood, can be lightly treated to exhibit the same properties of a cathode material (usually the negative end of a battery). The process to complete the cathode material is made by combining lignin to a special chemical named polypyrrole.
Batteries are simply made of electrolytes and electrodes (an anode and a cathode). The electrons that flow through its chemical energy transformation cycle are made to do different kinds of work. Unfortunately though, most of the available materials that we could use as electrodes are metals, so they still have to be mined and heavily processed. Even if the materials are not toxic, large quantities of these materials are not natural for the environment. If we can find a cheap, abundant and natural material that we could use to create the electrolyte, we could solve both the ecological and economical problems of batteries, and that is probably what was added to the inspiration for the wood cathode battery concept.
The idea of a wooden cathode is promising, and presented to be quite feasible with the successful testing of the composite material. However, the remaining problem lies with the absence of an equally cheap anode (the positive end). If we could find a good, cheap and environmentally safe anode, then the age of metal batteries might soon end, at least for smaller devices. True, it might be possible to integrate this new cathode material to current batteries, but that would most likely defeat the purpose of a “wooden” battery in the first place.
But even if the wooden cathode is actually combined eventually with standard batteries, we could probably still consider it “green” enough. The wooden cathode batteries would have a lesser impact on the environment, and might not become a part of the big grey pile easily (at least to some extent). The only thing that would be questionable for me in this green battery exploit is if the demand for wooden batteries should increase, would waste material from paper mills be enough? Could it still sustain its green factor if, for example, the industry was forced to take down whole trees to make the batteries?
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