Algae Holds Power to Extend Battery Life

By Eric Beidel
The Navy has proven it can power its boats with algae-based fuel. Now, scientists may have discovered another reason for the military to harvest it.

Researchers at Georgia Tech and Clemson University believe that material extracted from common brown algae can be used to bind lithium-ion batteries, boosting their ability to store energy. This refined alginate could do wonders for troops bogged down with batteries, replacements and chargers needed to operate electronic gear on the battlefield.

“While nature certainly did not intend to help us make better energy storage devices, we identified similarities in the material requirements for making better, longer-lasting batteries and those for the growth of aquatic plants,” says Gleb Yushin, an assistant professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology’s school of materials science and engineering.

Alginates are commonly employed as a binding material in foods such as ice cream. Because they can neutralize hydrochloric acid, they also are used to form a gel that protects the inner surface of the stomach from bleeding ulcers. The same properties allow the material to slow battery degradation, Yushin explains.

A battery could last 10 times longer if it were bonded with alginate, he says. The new binder also is less expensive than those traditionally used, which could make it especially attractive to industry. In addition to implications for the battlefield, the discovery could touch many aspects of everyday life, he says.

For starters, cell phones and notebook computers could be used for longer periods without requiring an electrical outlet. Batteries bound with alginate also could help get more electric cars on the road, Yushin says.

Topics: Energy, Alternative Energy, Power Sources, Science and Engineering Technology

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