Battery researchers look to seaweed

Researchers at Clemson University have identified a promising new binder material for lithium-ion battery electrodes that they hope will boost energy storage capacity: seaweed.

The scientists believe alginate, a material extracted from common, fast-growing brown algae, could eliminate the use of toxic compounds now used to manufacture the components.

The scientists looked at ways to improve binder materials in batteries. The binder is a critical component that suspends the silicon or graphite particles that actively interact with the electrolyte that provides battery power.

“We specifically looked at materials that had evolved in natural systems, such as aquatic plants which grow in saltwater with a high concentration of ions,” said Igor Luzinov, a professor in Clemson’s School of Materials Science and Engineering.

“Since electrodes in batteries are immersed in a liquid electrolyte, we felt that aquatic plants – in particular, plants growing in such an aggressive environment as saltwater – would be excellent candidates for natural binders.”

Finding the right binder is a critical facet of improving lithium-ion battery performance. Lithium-ion batteries work by transferring lithium ions between two electrodes – a cathode and an anode – through a liquid electrolyte. 

The more efficiently the lithium ions can enter the two electrodes during charge and discharge cycles, the larger the battery’s capacity will be.

This research is the result of collaboration between scientists and engineers at Clemson and the Georgia Institute of Technology. The project was supported by the two universities as well as by a Honda Initiation Grant and a grant from NASA.

Steve Duda, EarthTechling