February 5, 2016

From allergens to anodes: pollen derived battery electrodes

This scanning electron microscope image shows bee pollen studied for
potential use as electrodes for lithium-ion batteries.
Color was added to the original black-and-white image.
(Purdue University image/ Jialiang Tang)

(February 5, 2016)  Pollens, the bane of allergy sufferers, could represent a boon for battery makers: Recent research has suggested their potential use as anodes in lithium-ion batteries.

"Our findings have demonstrated that renewable pollens could produce carbon architectures for anode applications in energy storage devices," said Vilas Pol, an associate professor in the School of Chemical Engineering and the School of Materials Engineering at Purdue University.

Batteries have two electrodes, called an anode and a cathode. The anodes in most of today's lithium-ion batteries are made of graphite. Lithium ions are contained in a liquid called an electrolyte, and these ions are stored in the anode during recharging.
The researchers tested bee pollen- and cattail pollen-derived carbons as anodes.

"Both are abundantly available," said Pol, who worked with doctoral student Jialiang Tang. "The bottom line here is we want to learn something from nature that could be useful in creating better batteries with renewable feedstock."

Research findings are detailed in a paper that appeared Friday (Feb. 5) in Nature's Scientific Reports.

Whereas bee pollen is a mixture of different pollen types collected by honeybees, the cattail pollens all have the same shape.

"I started looking into pollens when my mom told me she had developed pollen allergy symptoms about two years ago," Tang said. "I was fascinated by the beauty and diversity of pollen microstructures. But the idea of using them as battery anodes did not really kick in until I started working on battery research and learned more about carbonization of biomass."

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