A team of University of Toronto chemists has created a battery that stores energy in a biologically-derived unit, paving the way for cheaper consumer electronics that are easier on the environment.
The battery is similar to many commercially-available high-energy lithium-ion batteries with one important difference. It uses flavin from vitamin B2 as the cathode: the part that stores the electricity that is released when connected to a device.
“We’ve been looking to nature for a while to find complex molecules for use in a number of consumer electronics applications,” says Dwight Seferos, an associate professor in U of T’s department of chemistry and Canada Research Chair in Polymer Nanotechnology.
“When you take something made by nature that is already complex, you end up spending less time making new material,” says Seferos.
Background battery basics
To understand the discovery, it’s important to know that modern batteries contain three basic parts:
- a positive terminal – the metal part that touches devices to power them – connected to a cathode inside the battery casing
- a negative terminal connected to an anode inside the battery casing
- an electrolyte solution, in which ions can travel between the cathode and anode electrodes
When a battery is connected to a phone, iPod, camera or other device that requires power, electrons flow from the anode – the negatively charged electrode of the device supplying current – out to the device, then into the cathode and ions migrate through the electrolyte solution to balance the charge. When connected to a charger, this process happens in reverse.
The reaction in the anode creates electrons and the reaction in the cathode absorbs them when discharging. The net product is electricity. The battery will continue to produce electricity until one or both of the electrodes run out of the substance necessary for the reactions to occur.
Source: University of Toronto