Electric cars are supposed to help the world go green and stop hurting the planet. Engineers at Brown University and the University of Maryland are taking that goal to another other level, with a new proposal for batteries made from trees, according to new findings published in Nature.
Lithium ion batteries have become the go-to form of rechargeable batteries thanks to their extraordinarily long charge. You’re probably reading this story from a device powered by such a battery. Most electric cars like ones made by Tesla use lithium-ion batteries.
These batteries use a liquid solution that conducts lithium ions from the battery’s cathode and anode—in layperson’s terms, the liquid is what helps ensure electrical power goes from the battery to the device it's powering.
The problem is that this liquid is made of toxic materials that are sometimes unstable. They sometimes have, uh, explosive outcomes.
A solid conducting structure would prevent this from happening, but it could be prone to cracking and breaking, rendering the battery useless. An ideal material for solid state lithium-ion batteries would be thin and flexible to withstand structural stresses—like wood from a tree.
The team behind the new research paper developed a hybrid material made of copper and fibers derived from wood. They tested it out as a model for conducting ions back and forth in a lithium-ion battery, and found it works 10 to 100 times better than other solid-state conductors—a record high.
The new findings are just based on preliminary model tests; a rechargeable battery made of trees is still quite a ways off. But should it pass muster as a practical form of energy, it could very well replace rechargeable batteries as we know them. And it is hard to imagine electric cars having a better sales pitch for their green bona fides than saying that their batteries are literally made from trees.