While traditional batteries cater to most of our everyday energy storage needs, they are generally not a feasible solution for large-scale energy storage, both in terms of cost and environmental sustainability. So how about using a wood battery instead?

As strange as it may sound, scientists are researching a battery model that uses wood fibers coated in tin and believe that this could be an efficient and environmentally friendly solution for large-scale storage.

Cellulose fibers were found to help nanobatteries keep their structure

Cellulose fibers were found to help nanobatteries keep their structure

University of Maryland researchers are testing how a sodium-ion battery could be better for storing vast amounts of energy rather than the traditional lithium-ion batteries. Sodium is not only cheaper and more available, but also harmless to the environment.

One of the biggest obstacles to developing stable sodium-ion batteries so far has been the fact that they have a very short life due to a phenomenon known as sodiation. More specifically, every charge and discharge of ions leads to the anode swelling and the battery falling apart after as little as 20 charging cycles.

But by using wood fibers, Maryland University scientists have managed to create longer lasting nanobatteries. The paper-thin wood fibers were coated with carbon nanotubes to become electrically conductive and then wrapped the array with a tin film.

Given that wood fibers are softer than the stiff bases generally used in traditional batteries, they were able to withstand the sodiation process and the anode’s repeated swelling and shrinking. The wood nanobattery was thus able to survive over 400 charging cycles. Even at the end of the battery life, the wood fibers were wrinkled, but still intact.

Scientists found inspiration for the project in the trees. A tree’s wood fibers hold water rich in minerals, which makes them ideal for the storage of liquid electrolytes and this makes them an active part of the battery, not only the base.

The wood battery is still in development. Sodium generally does not store energy as efficient as lithium, so it’s unlikely to see the technology used in our everyday gadgets. But a sodium-ion battery’s cycling performance, cheap raw material and impressive capacity will make it a highly efficient solution for storing large amounts of energy from renewable sources.

What do you think of the new design? Could the sodium-ion battery hold the key for solving a possible energy crisis, by offering large-scale energy storage to virtually every community with zero environmental impact?

[Image via treehugger]