Sustainable batteries can be made from something found “on your table”

The demand for electric car batteries is huge, and current production methods for these components are still environmentally damaging. Lithium, an essential element in battery production, is not available in sufficient quantities to meet the huge need in the coming years.

That’s why researchers are looking for eco-friendly alternatives. Sustainable batteries could be made using the shells of crabs and other crustaceans.

A team of scientists at the University of Maryland has announced that it has developed a biodegradable battery based on a substance found in crab shells.

The batteries need an electrolyte to carry ions from the anode to the cathode. This can be a liquid, a paste or a gel. Researchers in Maryland have created a chitosan-based gel electrolyte. This is a polysaccharide made from chitin – a substance that results from treating shellfish shells with sodium hydroxide.

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The raw material for the electrolyte can easily be obtained from leftovers from the seafood industry. “You can find chitosan on your table,” said Liangbing Hu, director of the university’s Centre for Materials Innovation.

The electrolytes created by the researchers degrade in nature in just five months, unlike those used in Li-ion batteries, which last much longer.

High lithium demand

The most widely used electrolyte in the production of electric car batteries is now based on lithium hexafluorophosphate (LiPF6), which is a toxic, environmentally harmful compound.

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There is currently only one active lithium mine in the US. By 2030, the United States will need 500,000 metric tons of lithium carbonate equivalent per year, according to RK Equity.

Last year the entire world production was 325,000 metric tons. Current mines will cover only half the need by 2030.

Deposits exist, but exploiting them could be difficult. Germany has announced that it has discovered significant reserves under the Rhine River. These are enough to build batteries for an estimated 400 million electric cars. However, the local population is not in favour of exploitation, even though the company in charge claims it will not destroy the environment.

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