Innovation That Matters

Crab and shrimp shells are an abundant source of chitin | Photo source Liangbing Hu

Batteries made from crab shells

Agriculture & Energy

A new battery made from the exoskeletons of crustaceans and zinc could store power from large-scale wind and solar sources  

Spotted: As the world increasingly turns to renewable energy sources and electric vehicles, the demand for batteries is skyrocketing. However, the batteries used today aren’t always sustainable, with many containing metals that are rare or difficult to obtain. Meanwhile, manufacturing processes can produce hazardous waste. As a result, there is a growing need for sustainable battery technologies that can meet the demands of a changing world. One promising solution comes from a group of scientists at the University of Maryland who have developed zinc batteries that use a biodegradable electrolyte made from crab shells.

Electrolytes are what batteries use to shuttle ions between the positive and negative electrodes during charging and use. The new battery uses a gel electrolyte made using a material derived from chitin, which is a biological material found in fungi, squid pens, and most abundantly in the exoskeletons of crustaceans. The electrolyte—which is made from chitosan, a derivative product of chitin—is biodegradable and breaks down completely within five months. Once the electrolyte degrades, the metal zinc component remains, which can be recycled.

“Zinc is more abundant in earth’s crust than lithium,” said the study’s lead author Liangbing Hu. “Generally speaking, well-developed zinc batteries are cheaper and safer.” When tested in a prototype battery, the chitosan electrolyte showed both excellent cycling rates and performance. The energy efficiency was 99.7 per cent after 1000 battery cycles, enough to store energy generated by wind and solar. The results were published in the journal Matter

The researchers hope that this biodegradable electrolyte will eventually be used in commercial batteries, making them more environmentally friendly. Next up, the team is working on making the manufacturing process more environmentally friendly.

Springwise has spotted a number of innovations supporting the large-scale deployment of renewable energy sources by giving batteries an upgrade. These include technology that uses old electric vehicle batteries to store excess wind power, a fully working battery powered by sand, and a thermal energy storage system that reduces energy costs and emissions. 

Written By: Katrina Lane

Email: binghu@umd.edu

Website: umd.edu

Download PDF