Pollens for Lithium Batteries! Is That True?

by Sankalan Baidya
Pollens for lithium batteries

I have no idea about you but when I hear the word Pollens, I can of prefer to look at my pollution-free room, filled with air fragrance, as the ultimate heavenly solace. Why so? Allery and sneezing are the two reasons for me but for some, itching may add up to the list of problems caused by pollens. However, despite its terrible side, pollens are kind of good. At least that is what Vilas Pol and Jialing Tang are trying to prove. They are attempting to use pollens for lithium batteries!

Vilas Pol is associate professor at Purdue University’s Chemical Engineering and the School of Materials Engineering, West Lafayette, Indiana. He is the lead author of the research he is working on along with his associate Jialing Tang from the same university.

The two scholars are researching of new and improved material that can be used for the production of lithium ion batteries that are known for powering up electric cars, cellphones and laptops. They are actually looking for renewable resources that can be used for producing improved batteries. In their hunt for such material, they have stumbled on pollens. Yes, the same ugly and nightmarish pollens. They are attempting to produce anodes of these lithium ion batteries using these pollens. In case you are wondering what exactly an anode is, it is the negative storage end of the battery and is made up of hard carbon.

How to make carbon from pollens for lithium batteries?

Okay, anodes are made of graphite or carbon. So, this is an interesting question. In order to solve this problem, Pol and his associate gathered two types of pollens – one type is from a swamp plant known as Cattalis and the other type is bee pollen. Bee pollens are not of specific type but are actually collection of different types of pollens that the honeybees collect from different plants.

Difference Between Cattail Pollen and Bee Pollen Micro Structures

Difference Between Cattail Pollen and Bee Pollen Micro Structures

Pol and his associate found that pollens are blessed with unique microstructures that can be used for producing energy storage units that are more efficient, renewable, have high performance and are actually way safer. When they say safer, they mean that they will not cause fire.

The difference between Cattalis pollen and bee pollen is that Cattalis pollen has more uniform microstructure compared to bee pollen because the former comes from a single source while the later comes from multiple sources.

The scientists collected the pollens and in presence of argon (an inter gas), superheated them at a temperature of 600 degrees Celsius or 1,112 degrees Fahrenheit. Superheating the pollens converted them into small carbon pieces and the presence of argon prevented the pollens from burning up as it would usually happen in conventional ovens.

So, yay! Carbon from pollens for lithium batteries is produced!

They took these small carbon pieces and reheated them. Reheating the carbon pieces created empty pockets inside the pollen structures, thereby increasing their energy storage capacity. The scientists found that bee pollens, after processing (i.e. conversion into carbon) have irregular structures and hence, have less storage capacity.

Now, after the initial success, Pol and his associate are working on possible methods that they can deploy for production of cathodes – the positive storage end of the lithium ion battery. Will they succeed? Hopefully they will and someday, they will give better and more efficient lithium ion batteries that use pollens and not graphite!

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