Batteries Red Herb to make Green Battery

Published on December 12th, 2012 | by Joshua S Hill


Ancient Red Plant Dye Powers New Green Batteries

December 12th, 2012 by  

In an awesome turn of events, the climbing herb rose madder has been found to make a fantastic fuel for lithium-ion batteries, one that is green on several levels.

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.

Red Herb to make Green 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.

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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

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I'm a Christian, a nerd, a geek, and I believe that we're pretty quickly directing planet-Earth into hell in a handbasket! I also write for Fantasy Book Review (, and can be found writing articles for a variety of other sites. Check me out at for more.

  • benwelgoed

    Now they ‘only’ need a plant-based substitute for Lithium. Granted, there is a fair amount of lithium around, it is present in most everything after all, but always as a trace element. That then makes Lithium extraction production highly energy intensive. Therefore it’s questionable one should ever use phrasing such as ‘an environmentally friendly lithium battery’. And, putting a ‘clean’ label on the battery will guarantee the trashcan to become their home to rest. Not horrible except for the lithium supply being scarce and its production an energy sinkhole.

  • Adam Devereaux

    For those looking for more specifics:

    “The lithium batteries assembled using purpurin and chemically lithiated
    purpurin as working electrodes showed good charge/discharge
    characteristics with a reversible capacity of ~90 mAh/g.”

    This is at 50 cycles, c/20 rate, there is a fair amount of capacity loss in that first 50 cycles however, it starts at:

    “A first discharge capacity of ~196 mAh/g is observed.”

    Greater then 50 cycles is not reported. Poor cycle life and poor specific power:

    “The discharge capacity of the first discharge cycle at a current rate of
    C/20 is much higher than that of C/10 and C/2. The decrease in specific
    capacity at higher current rates is due to poor electron conductivity
    of purpurin molecule.”

    Sorry guys, doesn’t look like a winner at this point.

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