University of Maryland scientists have created a zinc battery using a biodegradable material: crab shells.
The advancement was announced in the journal Matter last Thursday.
Electric vehicles, among other devices, currently rely on lithium-ion batteries, which contain artificial components that take centuries or even millennia to degrade completely.
UMD scientists instead pivoted to zinc and used a gel made of chitosan, found in crustacean shells, to provide the electrical current within the battery.
“Chitosan is a derivative product of chitin. Chitin has a lot of sources, including the cell walls of fungi, the exoskeletons of crustaceans, and squid pens,” study lead author Liangbing Hu said in a statement from the journal’s publisher Cell Press. Mr. Hu is director of the university’s Center for Materials Innovation.
Chitosan can be broken down by microbes, and it degrades completely within five months. Mr. Hu also pointed out the greater availability of zinc versus lithium.
“Zinc is more abundant in earth’s crust than lithium. Generally speaking, well-developed zinc batteries are cheaper and safer,” Mr. Hu said in an article on the UMD website.
The battery also holds up to wear and tear, with an energy efficiency of 99.7% after 1,000 charging cycles.
In addition to their use in electric vehicles, the crab batteries could also be used to store energy from renewable sources like wind and solar.
“In the future, I hope all components in batteries are biodegradable. Not only the material itself but also the fabrication process of biomaterials,” Mr. Hu said.