Researchers Develop Eco-Friendly Liquid Battery Running on Vanillin

The main ingredient is just one supermarket away.
Fabienne Lang
The prototype and vanillinTU Graz

The smell of a vanilla croissant freshly out of the oven is an aroma that's likely to make your mouth water. And it turns out that the sweet substance is, in fact, more useful than just getting your salivary glands into action. 

Researchers at the Graz University of Technology (TU Graz) have discovered that vanillin can be used in liquid batteries as an environmentally-friendly alternative to hard chemicals. 

This is a great step in the direction of green energy storage.

The study was published in Angewandte Chemie in August.


Converting vanillin for liquid batteries

This new research is a "groundbreaking success in the field of sustainable energy storage technologies," as per Stefan Spirk, from the Institute for Bio-based Products and Paper Technology at TU Graz.

Spirk and his team have managed to turn redox flow batteries into more eco-friendly ones by replacing their main element — liquid electrolytes — with regular vanillin. 

Researchers Develop Eco-Friendly Liquid Battery Running on Vanillin
Stefan Spirk and the team's work.                                  Source: Lunghammer/TU Graz

Liquid electrolytes are mostly made up of dangerous heavy metals or rare earth, so it's understandable that the TU Graz team would want to find a non-noxious alternative. 

Vanillin can be easily bought in a supermarket, or it can be extracted from lignin. Spirk's team managed to create its green version of liquid electrolytes at room temperature.

"On the one hand we can buy it (vanillin) in the supermarket, but on the other hand we can also split off lignin with the help of a simple reaction, which in turn is produced in large quantities as waste in paper production," Spirk explained. Green and simple. 

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Researchers Develop Eco-Friendly Liquid Battery Running on Vanillin
The TU Graz team working on the project.                  Source: Lunghammer/TU Graz

The team's main focus is sustainability and energy use, and it has solid plans as to how it wants to proceed, "The plan is to hook up our plant to a pulp mill and isolate the vanillin from the lignin that is left over as waste. What is not needed can then flow back into the regular cycle and be used energetically as usual," said Spirk.

It's a great discovery in the world of energy. Redox flow batteries are less flammable and more easily recycled than typical lithium-ion ones, so it's fantastic to find a safe alternative for its core element.