Batteries could soon be more environmentally friendly, after researchers discovered how to harness the unexpected power of vanilla.
Scientists at the University of Technology in Graz (TU Graz) in Styria, Austria have found a way to replace the elements in liquid batteries made of heavy metals and rare substances with vanillin, the ingredient that gives pastries their vanilla flavor.
Liquid batteries could be the answer to making renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar, a more viable option.
Lithium-ion batteries, which you find in laptops, phones or even electric vehicles, do not rise too well to the size needed to store energy for entire cities.
However, liquid batteries can be large enough to store enough electricity to act as a backup when the sun is not shining or it is a particularly quiet, windless day.
The problem is that liquid batteries are based on vanadium, a rare and expensive metal that is also toxic.
If vanadium batteries become more common as a way to store electricity, experts worry that prices would rise exponentially, making finding a cheaper and less toxic alternative an important area of research.
They found inspiration in the kitchen
In an attempt to find a greener alternative, the team at TU Graz had what researcher Stefan Spirk calls “revolutionary success in the field of sustainable energy storage technologies.”
They found that toxic and expensive metals could be replaced with vanillin, an ingredient you are more likely to find in the kitchen than in a laboratory.
“On the one hand, we can buy it in the supermarket, but on the other hand, we can split the lignin with a simple reaction, which in turn appears in large quantities as waste in paper production,” says Spirk.
The transformation of waste from paper production into vanillin requires only a light, environmentally friendly chemical reaction, using common household chemicals, as team members have assured.
This means that the production of environmentally friendly batteries could be easily expanded without the use of expensive and environmentally harmful metals.
Spirk believes that vanillin batteries can generate up to 800 megawatts of electricity storage, thus contributing to the transition of green energy.