It wraps sushi into delectable bites. Its pulp can be found in cosmetics. It covers someone's body if they go in for certain types of spa treatments. Now, seaweed could be a more eco-friendly and sustainable way to power smartphones and other electronics. An international team of researchers developed a way to boost the powers of seaweed to improve the performance of lithium-ion batteries.
[Image Source: Wikipedia]
"Carbon-based materials are the most versatile materials used in the field of energy storage and conversion," Dongjiang Yang with Qingdao University in China said. "We wanted to produce carbon-based materials via a really 'green' pathway. Given the renewability of seaweed, we chose seaweed extract as a precursor and template to synthesize hierarchical porous carbon materials."
Materials like graphite have played a critical role in making modern energy devices like batteries. However, to truly move technology into the future, effective superconductors serve a ubiquitous purpose. Superconductors have no resistance to the charge and they generate no heat when carrying current. If those superconductors can even partially be sustainably sourced, then all the better, according to Yang.
Seaweed can improve the performance of superconductors
Yang, alongside colleagues from Qingdao University and Los Alamos National Laboratory in the United States, looked to the ocean for inspiration. They found that seaweed offered a structure porous enough to complement superconductive materials like zinc-air batteries or even more traditional lithium-ion batteries. The team called these new structures "egg-box" structure (seen below).
Illustration of Porous Egg-box Structure [Image Source: American Chemical Society]
That structure delivered 625 milliampere hours per gram. Traditional graphite anodes only put out 372 milliampere hours per gram. This seaweed-based additive could double the lifespan and range of batteries in electric cars. A press release noted that the fibers performed just as well as commercial catalysts.
The team will present its research at the American Chemical Society exposition this week. The ACS remains one of the world's oldest and most popular groups for chemists, chemical engineers, and other researchers. This year's National Meeting & Exposition features over 14,000 presentations on various scientific subjects.
[Image Source: Wikipedia]
Yang and his team initially published their findings in ACS Central Science back in 2015. Since that time, however, they've made important new discoveries as to the efficiency of seaweed material. They also pursued more sustainable superconductors as the need for superconductive materials increase with the need for faster electronics.
Countless other researchers have been on a quest for improving superconductive materials. William Halperin serves as a professor of physics at Northwestern University. While not involved with Yang's study, he and his lab dedicate themselves to finding high-temperature, durable superconductors. With regard to his own research, he noted some of the key issues with making superconductors more marketable:
"In the problem of developing superconductors, such that they will have an impact on our society, there are two aspects, the first of which is a basic understanding of the process. The second is taking advantage of that basic science [for] feasibility studies and eventually execution in the marketplace or in the societal context."