New organic battery lasts longer and is better for the environment

Researchers from York University have explored a new type of organic battery that could last much longer than a typical battery while being safer for the environment. The study was published Thursday in the journal Batteries & Supercaps. Organic batteries use environmentally-friendly, organic materials instead of the toxic metals that are widely used. These organic materials would be used to take on the role of the electrode. Previously, protein-based solutions were explored by researchers across the globe, but this new study highlights a carbon-based organic molecule instead.

The goal is to replace metals such as cobalt in lithium-ion batteries – the most commonly used rechargeable battery type in phones and laptops. The researchers explore the usage of an electroactive, chemical compound called phosphaviologens (phosphoryl-bridged viologens) tethered to a tiny carbon nanotube to create an organic body that can replace such metals. After designing and testing their new organic battery, the researchers found that their battery retains its peak voltage of 3.5 volts even after 500 battery cycles. The typical lithium-ion battery begins to degrade by the time it reaches this stage.

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Thomas Baumgartner, co-author of the study, tells Inverse, “A lot of organic battery research around the world uses the same very few organic building blocks as active component. For this technology to mature and expand further, new powerful electroactive molecules are required. This is what we do in my group – develop new building blocks. We had introduced a new building block a few years ago and how now further optimized it in the current work, to make the battery fabrication more efficient, which addresses the critical cost factor for this technology to become viable.”

An important point to note is that Baumgartner also says that the nature of batteries will not change. At its core, the organic cell still remains a lithium-ion battery, with electrodes and a transport medium. Only the building blocks of the electrodes are sought to be changed to more organic, environmentally-friendly compounds. He also notes that “In the foreseeable future, this will likely not change.”

However, the technology isn’t ready yet. There are still some issues with the researchers’ organic battery, such as the significant capacity loss at lower temperatures of around 5 degrees Celcius, or 41 degrees Fahrenheit. Baumgartner also tells Inverse that there is the organic battery is heavier compared to lithium-ion batteries – a step in the wrong direction. He and his team hope to solve these drawbacks with further research and development.

He tells Inverse, “Many molecules are still too heavy for the amount of energy that can be stored in a given volume. That is what we are working on – making the materials better in storing more energy by also becoming lighter. At this point, given the weight disadvantage, organic batteries would not provide enough power in such a small space required for a phone, for example. Application in a car is more realistic since there is arguably more space for the battery, but the added weight could be unreasonably high. Realistically, a lot more work needs to go into considerably improving the capacity of organic batteries before they can become commercially viable. But we are at least on the right track.”

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