Published on December 12th, 2012 | by Joshua S Hill2
Ancient Red Plant Dye Powers New Green Batteries
Rose madder was once used to produce purpurin, a dye extracted from the herb to produce vibrant reds to dye materials. More than 3,500 years later, chemists from The City College of New York have teamed up with researchers from Rice University and the U.S. Army Research Laboratory to create a non-toxic and sustainable lithium-ion battery.
“Big news!” you might sarcastically say, until you remember that lithium-ion batteries are used to power everything from your mobile phone to the electric vehicle you drive to work. And those batteries are not as ‘green’ as we might like.
Currently, lithium-ion batteries are generally made using 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.
Mining cobalt metal and transforming it, however, is expensive, Dr. Reddy explained. To fabricate and then recycle lithium-ion batteries requires high temperatures which themselves require huge amounts of energy. “In 2010, almost 10 billion lithium-ion batteries had to be recycled,” he said .
Furthemore, the production and recycling of lithium-ion batteries also pumps approximately 72 kilograms of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere for every kilowatt-hour of energy in a lithium-ion battery.
Given all of that, it’s pretty clear that any alternative to cobalt or a mined ore would be beneficial. It just happens that purpurin from the rose madder root is not only just a bit better, but suspiciously better!
Not only is purpurin and its relatives seemingly pre-adapted to work as a battery’s electrode, but growing madder to make batteries would soak up carbon dioxide and eliminate the disposal problem of used-batteries.
Source: The City College of New York
Image Source: Madder plant (Rubia tinctorum) via The City College of New York