Chemists at the University of Toronto have developed a new battery that stores energy in a cathode derived from vitamins. The breakthrough could eventually lead to batteries that are much cheaper and more environmentally friendly than regular lithium-based batteries, but with similar performance. This development marks the first time a bio-derived polymer has been successfully applied to battery technology, an accomplishment that could unlock a new path for the future of energy storage.

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Flavin derived from vitamin B2 operates as the cathode in the new battery, which is the part where energy is stored when the battery is connected to an electronic device. Looking to nature for solutions, a design approach called biomimicry made a lot of sense to the research team as they sought to build a better battery. “We’ve been looking to nature for a while to find complex molecules for use in a number of consumer electronics applications,” said Dwight Seferos, an associate professor in the university’s Department of Chemistry and Canada Research Chair in Polymer Nanotechnology.

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The result is an environmentally friendly battery that is also easier to make than typical lithium ion batteries. “When you take something made by nature that is already complex, you end up spending less time making new material,” Seferos added.

After much trial and error, and many failures, the team of chemists successfully created a new material from vitamin B2 that begins with genetically-modified fungi and, through a semi-synthetic process, links two flavin units to create a long-chain molecule (in other words, a polymer). The bio-derived polymer makes it possible to create a truly green battery that has both high capacity and high voltage, which are both key elements to running all the portable electronic devices that modern life has come to rely upon.

The research was published in this month’s edition of the journal Advanced Functional Materials.


Images via Diana Tyszko/University of Toronto and Shutterstock