Metal-free battery degrades on demand

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A new platform of metal-free batteries could lead to more durable and recyclable batteries that degrade on demand.

The introduction of lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries has revolutionized the technology as a whole, leading to major advancements in consumer goods in almost every industry.

While the availability of the technology is generally a good thing, the rapid growth has directly led to several key ethical and environmental issues related to the use of Li-ion batteries.

Current Li-ion batteries use significant amounts of cobalt, which in several well-documented international cases is mined using child labor in hazardous work environments. In addition, only a very small percentage of Li-ion batteries are recycled, increasing the demand for cobalt and other strategic elements.

New search in Nature describes a method that could cause battery production to move away from cobalt. In the article, the researchers describe a new all-metal-free battery technology platform. This new battery technology platform uses a construct of polypeptide organic radicals.

“By moving away from lithium and working with these polypeptides, which are building blocks of proteins, it really brings us into this area not only to avoid the need for precious metal extraction, but also to open up opportunities for power portable or implantable electronic devices and also easily recycle new batteries, ”says Karen Wooley, professor in the chemistry department at Texas A&M University. “They [polypeptide batteries] are degradable, recyclable, non-toxic and safer at all levels. “

The all-polypeptide battery of organic radicals composed of macromolecules of amino acids with redox activity also solves the problem of recyclability. The components of the new battery platform can be degraded on demand under acidic conditions to generate amino acids, other building blocks and degradation products – one of the major advances in this research, explains the co-author. Jodie Lutkenhaus, professor in the department of chemical engineering.

“The big problem with lithium-ion batteries right now is that they are not being recycled to the degree that we will need for the future economy of electrified transport,” says Lutkenhaus. “The recycling rate for lithium-ion batteries is currently in single digits. The lithium-ion battery contains valuable materials, but their recovery is very difficult and consumes energy. “

The development of a fully polypeptide, metal-free organic radical battery, composed of active redox amino acid macromolecules that degrade on demand, marks significant progress towards sustainable and recyclable batteries that minimize dependence on strategic metals.

In a next step, Wooley and Lutkenhaus have started working in collaboration with Daniel Tabor, assistant professor in the chemistry department, thanks to a 2020 Texas A&M Triads for Transformation (T3) grant that aims to use machine learning to optimize materials. and the structure of the battery platform.

Alexandra Easley, a doctoral student in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, and Tan Nguyen, a former doctoral student in the Department of Chemistry, now at the University of Michigan, are the lead authors of the study.

The National Science Foundation, the Welch Foundation, and the US Department of Energy Office of Science funded the work.

Source: Texas A&M University

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