Pollen could be used to create electrodes from batteries, according to a new study. These particles, usually thought of as a nuisance and allergen, may be used in the formation of anodes, the negative electrode in lithium-ion batteries, researchers have found. The positive electrode in batteries is known as the cathode, and the two are separated by an electrolyte.
Currently, the anodes in typical lithium-ion batteries are constructed from graphite. They store graphite ions from the electrolyte while the device is charging.
Researchers examined the ability of carbon extracted from bee pollen and cattail pollen to act as effective anodes. The two materials differ in the fact that each particle of cattail pollen has the same shape, while bee pollen is composed of different varieties of pollen from various sources.
Both forms of pollen were subjected to a process of thermochemical decomposition known as pyrolysis, extracting pure carbon in the shape of the original particles of pollen. Later, this carbon was heated to 300 degrees Celcius (572 degrees Fahrenheit) in the presence of oxygen, forming pores which encouraged energy storage in the material.
"I started looking into pollens when my mom told me she had developed pollen allergy symptoms about two years ago. I was fascinated by the beauty and diversity of pollen microstructures. But the idea of using them as battery anodes did not really kick in until I started working on battery research and learned more about carbonization of biomass," said Jialiang Tang, a doctoral student at Purdue University, part of the research team which carried out the study.
Investigators found the cattail pollen was superior to bee pollen for the production of anodes.
Such electrodes take 10 hours to fully charge, although they can reach half their maximum charge in just an hour.
"We are just introducing the fascinating concept here," Vilas Pol, an associate professor in the School of Chemical Engineering and the School of Materials Engineering at Purdue University, said. "Further work is needed to determine how practical it might be," he added.
Future investigations of pollen-derived carbon in the manufacture of anodes will pair the materials with commercial cathodes in the construction of full batteries.
Analysis of the alility of pollen to act as an anode in lithium ion batteries was published in the journal Scientific Reports.