Current Weather
The Spy FM

All Charged Up: Engineers Create A Battery Made Of Wood

Filed by KOSU News in Science.
July 17, 2013

The big idea behind Joe’s Big Idea is to report on interesting inventions and inventors. When I saw the headline “An Environmentally Friendly Battery Made From Wood,” on a press release recently, I figured it fit the bill, so went to investigate.

The battery is being developed at the Energy Research Center at the University of Maryland in College Park.

I really wasn’t sure what a wood battery would look like. I knew you could make a battery out of a potato and wires, so I figured maybe they were doing something similar with a block of wood.

Wrong. The “wood” is actually microscopic wood fibers that are fashioned into thin sheets. The sheets are then coated with carbon nanotubes and packed into small metal discs.

The wood batteries use sodium ions, rather than the lithium ions that are found in the batteries of cellphones and laptops. In this case, the charged particles move around in the wood fibers, creating an electric current. It turns out wood is a good medium for sodium ions to move around in.

Now, wood is comparatively cheap. So is sodium. Liangbing Hu, head of the battery project, says he’s hoping the new batteries can be scaled up so they’ll be useful for storing the vast amounts of energy generated by solar arrays or wind farms.

“I think this wood-based storage can play a very important role as a low-cost solution,” he says.

Right now the battery is just a prototype. Hu and his colleagues will need to tweak the materials before they have something commercially viable.

There was something else interesting about the new battery: One of the authors on the paper describing it in Nano Letters was an undergraduate. What’s up with that? How does a young college student wind up co-authoring a paper in a major scientific journal?

Hu says Nicholas Weadock was an engineering major who expressed an interest in working in the lab. “In the very beginning he was helping students, my Ph.D. students actually, correct some English grammar,” says Hu. A lot of Dr. Hu’s doctoral students are from outside the U.S. “During the process … he asked a lot of interesting, very insightful questions, not only about the language, but about the science behind it.”

Weadock says he had originally wanted to work on wind power, but became interested in energy storage technology and wanted to show Hu that he could be a contributor to the lab.

“I came to the group meetings, I made suggestions, and I was ambitious enough to show him that I can do my own project,” he says.

Weadock is off to the California Institute of Technology in the fall for graduate school, where he plans to continue work on energy storage. Hu says the positive experience with Weadock has convinced him to recruit more undergraduates to his lab. [Copyright 2013 NPR]

Leave a Reply

9AM to 10AM The Takeaway

The Takeaway

A fresh alternative in morning news, "The Takeaway" provides a breadth and depth of world, national and regional news coverage that is unprecedented in public media.

Listen Live Now!

10AM to 11PM On Point

On Point

On Point unites distinct and provocative voices with passionate discussion as it confronts the stories that are at the center of what is important in the world today. Leaving no perspective unchallenged, On Point digs past the surface and into the core of a subject, exposing each of its real world implications.

View the program guide!

11AM to 12PM The Story

The Story

The Story with Dick Gordon brings the news home through first-person accounts. The live weekday program is passionate, personal, immediate and relevant to listeners, focusing on the news where it changes our lives, causes us to stop and rethink, inspires us.

View the program guide!

Upcoming Events in your area (Submit your event today!)

Streaming audio and podcasts

Stream KOSU on your smartphone

Phone Streaming

SmartPhone listening options on this page are intended for many iPhones, Blackberries, etc. with low-cost software applications available to listen to our full-time web streams, both News on KOSU-1 and Classical on KOSU-2.

Learn more about our complete range of streaming services

We're perfecting the patient experience - Stillwater Medical Center