Researchers Make Batteries From Hemp
Researchers at Bemp Research Corp. have developed a lithium-sulfur battery that is more cost-effective, has a higher performance and is more recyclable than lithium-ion batteries thanks to a helpful material: hemp.
The company uses carbonized hemp rather than heavy metals like cobalt or nickel, making batteries that are lightweight and durable. While many researchers globally have been looking into ways to use graphene for better EV batteries, it is still an expensive material that cannot be scaled up for mass production.
“Hemp is a better, lower-cost solution. Hemp’s durability can help the cathode withstand hundreds of cycles of contraction and expansion,” Son Nguyen, founder of Bemp Research, told EnergyTech. “Hemp’s porous structure can help ‘trap’ the polysulfides from shuttling to the anode.”
The use of hemp also means these batteries could have a smaller impact on the environment. Professors at Northwestern University, who are not involved with Bemp Research, found that cobalt mining in particular has harsh consequences on communities, including increased violence, food and water insecurity and health challenges. The working conditions are often unethical and dangerous for workers. Mining for heavy metals, including cobalt, can also pollute soil, water and air, contaminate food supplies and increase risk of respiratory and reproductive health issues.
Bemp Research said its LiS/B4C-hemp batteries — B4C-hemp meaning a boron carbide made of hemp — require only one heavy metal, lithium. This also means the batteries are far easier to recycle than lithium-ion batteries.
“Sulfur is very abundant. Boron is also relatively abundant, with the biggest boron mine being in California,” Nguyen said. “We also have a strategic partnership with Delta Agriculture, the biggest hemp producer in the USA. Delta Agriculture highlights that hemp is a legal crop that requires little water, no pesticides, and is better at carbon sequestration than trees.”
The company explained in the interview with EnergyTech that using an abundant crop like hemp and other materials that are more widely available than heavy metals can alleviate supply chain issues, lead to less costly manufacturing and create batteries that are safer in the event that they are damaged. The LiS/B4C-hemp battery is less likely to combust if damaged compared to a lithium-ion battery, making it a safer alternative, according to Nguyen.
Under tests, the batteries show they can be charged in just 20 minutes and are expected to last 100,000 miles with fast charging or more with slow charging. The team hopes to scale to mass production by 2026, and the batteries will be especially suitable for heavy-duty electric trucks and electric airplanes.
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