A Battery Made From Plants? Tennessee Researchers Are Working On It

Scientists at Oak Ridge National Lab say they’ve made a new kind of battery, using a byproduct of turning wood into paper. It’s one of several battery technologies coming out of Oak Ridge.

Wood cells, as they appear under a fluorescence microscope. Lignin, the bright green areas between the cells, acts as a "glue" that holds them together. Image: Uppsala University, Sweden

Wood cells, as they appear under a fluorescence microscope. Lignin, the bright green areas between the cells, acts as a “glue” that holds them together. Image: Uppsala University, Sweden

Lignin is the glue that holds plant cells together. It’s also what turns old paper brown.  But Oak Ridge researcher Orlando Rios and his team say they’ve found a way to turn this plant material into fuel for batteries. Rios says it’s more environmentally friendly. Traditional batteries contain lots of metals like lithium, nickel, and cadmium.

Rios’ battery hasn’t made it out of the lab, but he says it’s something that can be produced easily on larger scale. “You can use the equipment that you already have, that’s already in our infrastructure,” he said. “Equipment that we already make clothing with, equipment that we heat-treat parts in. That kind of equipment is compatible with this technology.”

Rios’ research was recently published in the journal Advanced Functional Materials.  Meanwhile, other Oak Ridge scientists are trying to develop more powerful rechargeable batteries and ways of charging electric cars wirelessly.

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