Crab shells to make renewable batteries?

Currently, two types of batteries are used to power phones, batteries and electric cars, wind turbines, solar panels and other objects that we use every day: the lead-acid battery and the lithium-ion battery. However, methods of their extraction and production, as well as processing (more precisely, liquid processing) of their components are regularly distinguished. But researchers from Center for innovative materials (CMI) from the University of Maryland (United States) believe they have found an alternative solution to produce more durable and renewable batteries: using a component that is naturally found in the shells of crustaceans.

⋙ A sand battery was invented to store energy from solar panels and wind turbines

Chitin with promising properties

In a magazine article case published on September 1, 2022, they do explain that crustaceans (crabs, shrimp, lobsters) have chitin-rich cells in their exoskeletons. It is this organic compound that makes their shell hard and stable. It is present elsewhere in nature, such as in fungi, insects or lichens, but the food industry usually discards it as food waste. However, chitin has been studied by scientists for several years. It is used in medicine and cosmetics because it is well tolerated by biological tissues, its healing properties are ideal for the treatment of burns.

The renewable battery is still in the testing phase

Specialists in electrical engineering are now interested in this molecule, in particular chitosan, a derivative of chitin. Chemical treatment and the addition of an aqueous solution of acetic acid allowed them to synthesize chitosan into a solid gel membrane. Thus, the compound can be used as an electrolyte, a substance inside the battery that helps ions move from one end of the device to the other, thus storing energy. Everything was combined with zinc, a metal that is increasingly used to make batteries “cheaper and safer”, researchers explain in a press release. In this way, they received a prototype of a renewable battery.

This one, developed in part thanks to crab shells, will eventually have an efficiency of 99.7% after 1,000 recharge cycles, or about 400 hours. In this way, the new battery can be quickly charged and discharged without affecting its performance. This could be a viable option for storing energy generated by wind and solar sources and transmitting it to various power grids. In addition, it will not be corrosive and flammable, as lithium-ion batteries can be. Now it remains to test this innovation on a larger scale and under commercial conditions.

Decomposed electrolyte, zinc is subject to recycling

Finally, for the electrolyte to be considered biodegradable, approximately two-thirds of the battery must be able to be broken down by microbes in the soil. According to the researchers, chitosan would be completely erased by microbes after five months. Only the metal compound, zinc, remains to be processed. This too “there is more in the earth’s crust than lithium”, say the authors of the study. Now the team is working on creating even more environmentally friendly batteries: “In the future, I hope that all battery components will be biodegradable. Not only the material itself, but also the process of production of biomaterials”– says Liangbin Hu, director of research.

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