This holiday season, it is almost a sure thing that one of the gifts you will receive will require a battery. Instead of a plain old Duracell, you may soon be able to reach for a battery powered by a plant. From paper to sugar, there are a number of renewable materials being utilized to create batteries for everyday use. Instead of employing finite materials such as cobalt, scientists at Rice University, City College of New York and US Army Research Laboratory have invented a battery that is fueled by the red dye extracted from madder roots.
The madder dye, also known as “rose madder” or “purpurin”, has been used for centuries as a natural coloring agent for fabrics. Able to produce orange, red, and pink hues, the color molecules are also capable of carrying carbonyl and hydroxyl groups. This makes it an excellent electrode for use in batteries. “These aromatic systems are electron-rich molecules that easily coordinate with lithium,” explains CCNY Professor George John. Purpurin is also easier to produce than many other organic materials and is non-toxic.
Cobalt and lithium take massive amounts of energy to mine and recycle. In 2010 alone, almost 10 billion lithium-ion batteries had to be recycled. These processes can pump 72 kilograms of carbon into the atmosphere per every kilowatt hour of energy. Purpurin could be not only be an excellent partner to traditional lithium batteries, but growing madder root also helps to soak up carbon dioxide and make it able to be simply thrown away.
While it may be years until we see the roots being grown for mass production, we may soon see a more eco-friendly battery that we can grow. To read more about the team’s research, check out their publication in Nature’s publication, Scientific Reports.