Hemp Batteries Could Change Energy Storage Forever

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By Marco Torres

Image: Herb.co
Image: Herb.co

As hemp makes a comeback in the U.S. after a decades-long ban on its cultivation, scientists are reporting that fibers from the plant can pack as much energy and power as graphene, long-touted as the model material for supercapacitors.

They’re presenting their research, which a Canadian start-up company is working on scaling up, at the 248th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS), the world’s largest scientific society.

Although hemp (cannabis sativa) and marijuana (cannabis sativa var. indica) come from a similar species of plant, they are very different and confusion has been caused by deliberate misinformation with far reaching effects on socioeconomics as well as on environmental matters.

Hemp is the most universally useful plant we have at our disposal. The history of mankind’s use of hemp can be traced way back in time to between about 5000 – 7000 BC.

Industrial hemp and hemp seed could transform the economy of the world States in a positive and beneficial way, and therefore should be exploited to its full potential, especially relating to energy storage.

David Mitlin, Ph.D., explains that supercapacitors are energy storage devices that have huge potential to transform the way future electronics are powered. Unlike today’s rechargeable batteries, which sip up energy over several hours, supercapacitors can charge and discharge within seconds. But they normally can’t store nearly as much energy as batteries, an important property known as energy density. One approach researchers are taking to boost supercapacitors’ energy density is to design better electrodes. Mitlin’s team has figured out how to make them from certain hemp fibers and they can hold as much energy as the current top contender: graphene.

“Our device’s electrochemical performance is on par with or better than graphene-based devices,” Mitlin says. “The key advantage is that our electrodes are made from biowaste using a simple process, and therefore, are much cheaper than graphene.”

The race toward the ideal supercapacitor has largely focused on graphene a strong, light material made of atom-thick layers of carbon, which when stacked, can be made into electrodes. Scientists are investigating how they can take advantage of graphene’s unique properties to build better solar cells, water filtration systems, touch-screen technology, as well as batteries and supercapacitors. The problem is it’s expensive.

Mitlin’s group decided to see if they could make graphene-like carbons from hemp bast fibers. The fibers come from the inner bark of the plant and often are discarded from Canada’s fast-growing industries that use hemp for clothing, construction materials and other products. The U.S. could soon become another supplier of bast. It now allows limited cultivation of hemp, which unlike its close cousin, does not induce highs.

Mitlin’s team built their supercapacitors using the hemp-derived carbons as electrodes and an ionic liquid as the electrolyte. Fully assembled, the devices performed far better than commercial supercapacitors in both energy density and the range of temperatures over which they can work. The hemp-based devices yielded energy densities as high as 12 Watt-hours per kilogram, two to three times higher than commercial counterparts. They also operate over an impressive temperature range, from freezing to more than 200 degrees Fahrenheit.

“We’re past the proof-of-principle stage for the fully functional supercapacitor,” he says. “Now we’re gearing up for small-scale manufacturing.”

Governments have cooperated with powerful corporate lobbyists the ensure that hemp is lumped into the same category as marijuana. The primary reason is that hemp has too many abundant resources for fuel, housing, food, medicine that corporations cannot exploit.


Marco Torres is a research specialist, writer and consumer advocate for healthy lifestyles. He holds degrees in Public Health and Environmental Science and is a professional speaker on topics such as disease prevention, environmental toxins and health policy.


 

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