Rose madder – a natural plant dye once prized throughout the Old World to make fiery red textiles – has found a second life as the basis for a new “green” battery.
Chemists from The City College of New York teamed with researchers from Rice University and the U.S. Army Research Laboratory to develop a non-toxic and sustainable lithium-ion battery powered by purpurin, a dye extracted from the roots of the madder plant (Rubia species).
More than 3,500 years ago, civilizations in Asia and the Middle East first boiled madder roots to color fabrics in vivid oranges, reds and pinks. In its latest technological incarnation, the climbing herb could lay the foundation for an eco-friendly alternative to traditional lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries. These batteries charge everything from your mobile phone to electric vehicles, but carry with them risks to the environment during production, recycling and disposal.
“Purpurin,” on the other hand, said team member and City College Professor of Chemistry George John, “comes from nature and it will go back to nature.” The team reports their results in the journal Nature’s online and open access publication, Scientific Reports, on December 11, 2012.
Most Li-ion batteries today rely on finite supplies of mined metal ores, such as cobalt. “Thirty percent of globally produced cobalt is fed into battery technology,” noted Dr. Leela Reddy, lead author and a research scientist in Professor Pulickel Ajayan’s lab in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science at Rice University. The cobalt salt and lithium are combined at high temperatures to make a battery’s cathode, the electrode through which the electric current flows.
Mining cobalt metal and transforming it, however, is expensive, Dr. Reddy explained. Fabricating and recycling standard Li-ion batteries demands high temperatures, guzzling costly energy, especially during recycling. “In 2010, almost 10 billion lithium-ion batteries had to be recycled,” he said .
Production and recycling also pumps an estimated 72 kilograms of carbon dioxide – a greenhouse gas – into the atmosphere for every kilowatt-hour of energy in a Li-ion battery, he noted. These grim facts have fed a surging demand to develop green batteries, said Dr. Reddy.
Fortunately, biologically based color molecules, like purpurin and its relatives, seem pre-adapted to act as a battery’s electrode. In the case of purpurin, the molecule’s six-membered (aromatic) rings are festooned with carbonyl and hydroxyl groups adept at passing electrons back and forth, just as traditional electrodes do. “These aromatic systems are electron-rich molecules that easily coordinate with lithium,” explained Professor John.
Moreover, growing madder or other biomass crops to make batteries would soak up carbon dioxide and eliminate the disposal problem – without its toxic components, a lithium-ion battery could be thrown away.
Best of all, purpurin also turns out to be a no-fuss ingredient. “In the literature there are one or two other natural organic molecules in development for batteries, but the process to make them is much more tedious and complicated,” noted Professor John.
Made and stored at room temperature, the purpurin electrode is made in just a few easy steps: dissolve the purpurin in an alcohol solvent and add lithium salt. When the salt’s lithium ion binds with purpurin the solution turns from reddish yellow to pink. Remove the solvent and it's ready. “The chemistry is quite simple,” coauthor and City College postdoctoral researcher Dr. Subbiah Nagarajan explained.
The team estimates that a commercial green Li-ion battery may be only a few years away, counting the time needed to ramp up purpurin’s efficiency or hunt down and synthesize similar molecules. “We can say it is definitely going to happen, and sometime soon, because in this case we are fully aware of the mechanism,” said Professor John.
“When you can generate something new or unheard of, you think of chemistry in a different way,” he added. “That a natural material or dye can be used for a battery, that is exciting, even for me.”
Coauthors include postdoctoral researcher Subbiah Nagarajan, facilities manager Padmanava Pradhan, and graduate student Swapnil Jadhav of the City College of New York; visiting scholar Porramate Chumyim, former postdoctoral fellow Sanketh Gowda and Professor Pulickel Ajayan of Rice University; and Madan Dubey of the U.S. Army Research Laboratory.
The National Science Foundation and the U.S. Army Research Office funded this research.
Reddy, A.L.M. et al. Lithium storage mechanisms in purpurin based
organic lithium ion battery electrodes. Sci. Rep. 2, 960; doi:10.1038/srep00960
11 Dec 2012.
Professor George John
Rice University Ajayan Lab (Incl. L. Reddy)
P | 212-650-7615
E | firstname.lastname@example.org
Jessa Netting | Source: EurekAlert!
Further Reports about: battery > Ancient African Exodus > battery > carbon dioxide > electric vehicle > high temperatures > Laboratory > Li-Ion > lithium-ion battery > Nagarajan > organic molecule > Science TV
More articles from Life Sciences:
New genetic research finds shark, human proteins stunningly similar
06.12.2013 | Cornell University
Prostate cancer biomarker may predict patient outcomes
06.12.2013 | Vanderbilt University Medical Center
International team of scientists develops new feedback method for optimizing the laser pulse shapes used in the control of chemical reactions
In many ways, traditional chemical synthesis is similar to cooking. To alter the final product, you can change the ingredients or their ratio, change the method of mixing ingredients, or change the temperature or pressure of the environment of the ingredients.
Like an accomplished chef, chemists have become very skilled ...
A genetic defect protects mice from infection with influenza viruses
A new study published in the scientific journal PLOS Pathogens points out that mice lacking a protein called Tmprss2 are no longer affected by certain flu viruses.
The discovery was made by researchers from the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI) in Braunschweig in collaboration with colleagues from Göttingen and ...
The Light: Global study gets underway with online user survey
Light has a fundamental impact on our sense of well-being and performance. In cooperation with Zumtobel, a supplier of lighting solutions, Fraunhofer IAO has launched a global user survey of lighting quality in offices. The objective is to identify the best lighting conditions for a variety of spaces and lighting ...
Quantum entanglement, a perplexing phenomenon of quantum mechanics that Albert Einstein once referred to as “spooky action at a distance,” could be even spookier than Einstein perceived.
Physicists at the University of Washington and Stony Brook University in New York believe the phenomenon might be intrinsically linked with wormholes, hypothetical features of space-time that in popular science fiction can provide a much-faster-than-light shortcut from one part of the universe to another.
But here’s the catch: One couldn’t actually ...
A star is formed when a large cloud of gas and dust condenses and eventually becomes so dense that it collapses into a ball of gas, where the pressure heats the matter, creating a glowing gas ball – a star is born.
New research from the Niels Bohr Institute, among others, shows that a young, newly formed star in the Milky Way had such an explosive growth, that it was initially about 100 times brighter than it is now. The results are published in the scientific journal, Astrophysical Journal Letters.
The young ...
06.12.2013 | Materials Sciences
06.12.2013 | Life Sciences
06.12.2013 | Life Sciences
05.12.2013 | Event News
04.12.2013 | Event News
12.11.2013 | Event News