Seaweed Could Revolutionize How We Power Our Devices

The answer to powering our devices might have been hiding in our sushi all along. An international team of researchers has used seaweed to create a material that can enhance the performance of superconductors, lithium-ion batteries and fuel cells.

The team, from the U.S., the UK, China and Belgium, came up with the idea to mimic Murray's Law, which is a natural process within the structure of a plant's pores that pumps water or air throughout the plant to provide it energy. With Murray's law, the larger the pore, the less energy expended because the pressure is reduced, but it takes different variations in size to create a balancing act across the body of the plant and maximize energy potential. In seaweed's case, the plant has the perfect pore variation for regulating energy in real world applications.

"The introduction of the concept of Murray's Law to industrial processes could revolutionize the design of reactors with highly enhanced efficiency, minimum energy, time and raw material consumption for a sustainable future," said Bao-Lian Su, professor at the University of Cambridge and co-author of the research.

The scientists made the "Murray material" by embedding an extract of the seaweed into multiple layers of nano-fibers of zinc oxide, which created a hierarchy in the size of the pores. They believe the material can be used on rechargeable batteries, high performance gas sensing technology or even to decompose inorganic material in the oceans.

The zinc nano-fiber embedded with the cells of seaweed.American Chemical Society

Seaweed is a fast growing algae that grows in abundance in coastal areas. It is estimated that seaweed and other algae takes up 90 percent of all plant life on Earth, making it a very sustainable plant for energy purposes. The team believes they could safely utilize 20,000 tons of the seaweed extract per year.

The Murray material could improve capacity by 25 times compared to the current graphite-based technology being used in lithium-ion batteries. The pores in the material also allow for a smoother charge/discharge process, improving stability and extending the life of batteries or fuel cells.

"Large scale manufacturability of this porous material is possible," said co-author Tawfique Hasan, also at Cambridge. "Making it an exciting, enabling technology, with potential impact across many applications."

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