Pollen – that itchy, sneezing, allergy-inducing nightmare – has a positive side, as in batteries.
Vilas Pol, lead author and associate professor and associate Jialiang Tang in the School of Chemical Engineering and the School of Materials Engineering at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana is leading research on the next generation of materials for producing lithium batteries, used in cell phone, laptops and electric cars. Specifically, he and colleagues are studying renewable materials for the production of anodes, the negatively charged storage end of batteries that are comprised of hard carbon.
They recently discovered that pollen grains from bees and cattails (a swamp plant) have unique microstructures that can provide a more efficient, higher performing, renewable and safer (less likely to cause fires) energy storage unit than the currently used graphite.
Taking pollen from honeybees and pollen from cattail for comparison, scientists turned them into little pieces of carbon by superheating them to 1,112-degrees Fahrenheit (600-degrees Celsius) in a space filled with argon gas. Unlike heating in a conventional oven, the argon gas prevents the carbon from burning up. They then reheated these carbon pieces to create more empty pockets in the pollen structures to increase their capacity to store energy.
The research showed that cattail pollen, because it is composed of one type of pollen, has a more uniform structure, offering increased energy storage. The pollen from bees, that gather pollen from many types of plants, is more irregular in structure, with less energy storage capability.
The next step for Pol and his colleagues is to investigate how to create a better cathode, the positively charged storage end of a batteries to improve battery storage even more.
This is just the beginning of better batteries.
Who would have thought that allergy-causing pollen grains would someday power portable electronics and vehicles? Next time you sneeze, think about the positive side of pollen.