Printable polymers for (future) biodegrada­ble batteries

Researcher­s inch towards a biodegrada­ble way to power small devices.


What if, instead of a rigid chunk of lithium-ion, your phone was charged by a flexible, printable battery? And what if that battery were biodegrada­ble?

According to a group of Australian and Chinese researcher­s, this is possible with technology they’re working on. Such batteries would probably only ever be powerful enough to charge small devices but, at least in the lab, they’re rivalling lithium-ion at the small scale.

The research revolves around organic radical batteries, or ORBS. These batteries rely on a carboncont­aining polymer to store and transport electrons. They don’t require any metals to make, so while the materials aren’t currently biodegrada­ble, it should be possible to create them from a biodegrada­ble material.

ORBS aren’t a new concept, but so far several features are inferior to commercial batteries, according to Dr Zhongfan Jia, a researcher in chemistry at Flinders University in Adelaide.

The first is the batteries’ voltage: the force with which they can discharge power.

The next problem is capacity – what we might think of as storage. “Capacity is how much energy you can put in,” says Jia.

The third issue is power density.“if you have a fancy racing car, it might be accelerate­d from 0 to 100 km/h within six or seven seconds. That difference is related to the power density,” says Jia.

Jia and colleagues have found a catalyst that allows these batteries to compete with lithium-ion in both voltage and storage capacity.

In Chemical Engineerin­g Journal, they described a prototype battery with a voltage of 2.8 V – one of the highest voltages ever reported in an ORB.

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