Making batteries out of crab shells can be a great idea

Plug these guys into your Tesla.

Plug these guys into your Tesla.
Photo: Brendon Thorne (Getty Images)

The world could create longer-lasting batteries with an unusual source: shellfish. In a paper published this week in the journal Matter, researchers say they made a biodegradable battery with a substance found in crab and lobster shells.

A crucial part of how batteries work is an electrolytic substance that sits between the two electrical terminals at each end, which helps ions move between the positively and negatively charged terminals to generate electricity. Conventional batteries rely on lead or lithium (e.g. lead-acid batteries and lithium-ion batteries), but these batteries have a host of problems.

We‘re going to need a huge amount of batteries to ditch fossil fuels, but traditional electrolytic substances bring with them a host of new problems: ThThey can be incredibly complex to recycle, electrolytes are not biodegradable and can be dangerous on their own, sometimes exploding or causing fires. In the case of lithium batteries, there is also a problem with the destructive mining practices the world may have to engage in to get enough lithium for our projected energy needs.

Enter shellfish. Crabs and lobsters have material in their exoskeletons called chitin, which helps keep their shells hard and strong. Chitin can also be transformed into a derivative called chitosan, which the researchers combined with zinc to create a new electrolytic substance to power a battery that they say remains almost entirely energy efficient after 400 hours of use. Plus, unlike traditional battery electrolytes, this crab goo will break down into soil in about five months, leaving behind the zinc, which can be recycled.

“In the future, I hope all battery components will be biodegradable,” said lead author Liangbing Hu, director of the Center for Materials Innovation at the University of Maryland. said in a press release. “Not only the material itself, but also the manufacturing process of biomaterials.”

If any crabs reading this get nervous, don’t worry, there are other sources of chitin in the world. Crustacean shells are particularly rich in chitin, but chitin can also be found in the walls of mushrooms and parts of squid.

Alas, a lab test of a biodegradable lobster energy pack is not enough means all our dirty battery problems are solved. “When you’re developing new materials for battery technologies, there’s usually a big gap between promising lab results and demonstrable, scalable technology,” said Graham Newton, professor of materials chemistry at the University of Nottingham. , who did not participate in the study. told the Guardian.

Still, Newton said the study was encouraging. “There are still quite a few challenges in the development of zinc-ion batteries, but fundamental studies like this are extremely important,” he said. We can’t be too grumpy about it.