• Microscopic image of wood fibers used in new battery.

    Credit: Courtesy the University of Maryland

    Microscopic image of wood fibers used in new battery.

Environmental concerns have inspired scientists to develop new technologies from unexpected material resources. One example is a battery made from the wood fibers of yellow pine trees, which was developed at the University of Maryland.

Materials science professor Liangbing Hu and her colleagues were inspired by the storage and energy conversion capabilities of trees, as well as the idea to use a more environmentally friendly material for battery technologies. "Wood fibers that make up a tree once held mineral-rich water, and so are ideal for storing liquid electrolytes, making them not only the base but an active part of the battery," said Hu in a UMD press release.

The scientists coated the wood fibers with tin, using sodium rather than conventional lithium as the primary energy storage medium. The result is a nano-scaled battery that is resilient enough to endure over 400 charging cycles. "Pushing sodium ions through tin anodes often weaken the tin’s connection to its base material," said Teng Li, an associate professor of mechanical engineering. "But the wood fibers are soft enough to serve as a mechanical buffer, and thus can accommodate tin’s changes. This is the key to our long-lasting sodium-ion batteries."

The battery is not as efficient as the conventional lithium version found in mobile electronic devices. However, the researchers are targeting the technology for large-scale applications such as solar harvesting in power plants.

Blaine Brownell, AIA, is a regularly featured columnist whose stories appear on this website each week. His views and conclusions are not necessarily those of ARCHITECT magazine nor of the American Institute of Architects.