University Researchers Develop an Eco-Friendly Power Storage Battery Using VanillinOctober 31, 2020 by Stephanie Leonida
TU Graz University researchers discover a way of replacing liquid electrolytes in redox flow batteries by using a plant-based compound called vanillin.
Through continual research and development, scientists endeavour to uncover more environmentally sustainable methods of resourcing energy and storing it. In the case of battery materials, these highly important materials usually include those that can be toxic to both the environment and living organisms. Metals like cobalt, cadmium, nickel, mercury, and others are the typical culprits.
Recently, researchers from TU Graz University have developed a more ecologically friendly battery liquid electrolyte material using a component extracted from plant tissues.
TU Graz researchers patented their separation and refining process of vanillin. Image used courtesy of TU Graz University
A Plant-Derived, Sustainable Battery Material
TU Graz researchers have been able to use vanillin, a substance that is usually used as a flavor compound in cooking as a replacement for conventional liquid electrolytes that can be made of more toxic materials. The organic compound can be extracted from vanilla beans, pine bark, clove oil, and other natural sources. It can also be made synthetically.
TU Graz researchers extracted vanillin from lignin, a complex of organic polymers found within plant structural tissues. During paper production when the wood is processed into pulp, lignin is produced as a waste product. Lignin itself is a material that has been previously been proven by researchers and companies to be a good candidate for developing and enhancing batteries and supercapacitors.
"We refine lignin into vanillin into a redox-active material using mild and green chemistry without the use of toxic and expensive metal catalysts, so that it can be used in flow batteries”, said Stefan Spirk from the Institute of Bioproducts and Paper Technology at Graz University of Technology in a recent news release.
TU Graz researcher Stefan Spirk. Image used courtesy of TU Graz University
In the same news release, Spirk said that “the plan is to hook up our plant to a pulp mill and isolate the vanillin from the lignin that is left over as waste. Whatever is not needed can subsequently flow back into the regular cycle and be used energetically as usual. We are in concrete talks with Mondi AG, a leading global manufacturer of paper-based products, which is showing great interest in the technology."
The recycling of waste lignin during paper production is a way of making the most out of the process and reducing the consumption of raw plant material from other sources.
Bringing Sustainable Battery Materials to the Stage
TU Graz researchers patented the separation and refinement process of vanillin and are taking steps to commercialize it. Energy supply companies that are interested in integrating the university start-up's redox flow technology into its infrastructure are on the radar for the researchers.
The team believes that this technology has the potential to provide electricity generation on a regional basis, energy storage of up to 800-megawatt hours, relieve the burden on the electricity grid, and overall, provide a greener means of energy storage. Redox batteries such as those using vanillin also have the potential to be used for stationary applications such as mobile phone systems, power plants, e-fuelling stations, and hospitals.