Common batteries are electrochemical cells. And they may get better thanks to living cells: the multicellular organism called brown algae.
Lithium ion batteries include a binder. It holds the graphite nanoparticles that serve as the anode. The binder isn’t active, but researchers say it’s crucial in the battery’s stability. In theory, a silicon anode would make a better battery than graphite, but it’s not stable. Cracks form, and the battery degrades. The researchers thought—could a silicon anode succeed with a better binder?
Seawater has a high concentration of ions, much like the battery’s electrolyte. So the researchers thought that an organism that survives in seawater might provide a natural binder. They tested alginate from brown algae. And it provided such an effective binder for silicon nanoparticles that the system didn’t degrade. The result? A battery that can store more energy, is less expensive, can last longer and wouldn’t use as many toxic chemicals in the manufacturing.
The research is online in Science Express, in advance of publication in the journal Science. [Igor Kovalenko et al., "A Major Constituent of Brown Algae for Use in High-Capacity Li-Ion Batteries"]
The scientists will refine their alginate efforts, in the hope that fast-growing brown algae can help contribute to our fast-growing battery economy.
[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]