When Orlando Rios first started analyzing samples of carbon fibers made from a woody plant polymer known as lignin, he noticed something unusual. The material’s microstructure — a mixture of perfectly spherical nanoscale crystallites distributed within a fibrous matrix — looked almost too good to be true.
“I thought, this looks like a material that people would go through a lot of work modifying graphite to make it look this way,” said Rios, a materials scientist at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory. “It had a really distinct microstructure from any other graphite I’d seen.”
Rios and his colleagues soon realized the lignin fiber’s unique structure could make it useful as a battery anode, potentially improving upon graphitic materials found in most lithium-ion batteries. Lignin, a low-cost byproduct of the pulp, paper and biofuels industries, could be transformed into a cheaper version of highly engineered graphite through a simple and industrially scalable manufacturing process.
“We start with the fibers when they’re in a polymer state and then fuse them together by essentially melting and burning them,” Rios said. “Then you have a structure that looks like a mat or piece of paper. You can take this material, place it in a battery and you’re done. It’s ready to go.”
The Latest on: Plant-based battery
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The Latest on: Plant-based battery
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