Maryland Engineers Get Cracking on Sustainability with Crab Shell-based Battery

Maryland Engineers Get Cracking on Sustainability with Crab Shell-based Battery

Maryland Engineers Get Cracking on Sustainability with Crab Shell-based Battery

A basket of Maryland blue crabs could hold the secret for sustainable battery production. New Maryland Engineering-led research uses chitosan from crab shells to create a biodegradable electrolyte for renewable energy storage. Photo by John T. Consoli
A basket of Maryland blue crabs could hold the secret for sustainable battery production. New Maryland Engineering-led research uses chitosan from crab shells to create a biodegradable electrolyte for renewable energy storage. Photo by John T. Consoli

Electric vehicles are a major part of the equation for protecting Earth’s climate, but not everything adds up yet: The batteries powering these rolling sustainability solutions aren’t always sustainable themselves.

But now University of Maryland engineers have created a zinc battery with a biodegradable electrolyte from an unexpected source—crab shells. The discovery was presented in a paper this month in the journal Matter.

“Vast quantities of batteries are being produced and consumed, raising the possibility of environmental problems,” said the lead author and materials science and engineering Professor Liangbing Hu, director of UMD’s Center for Materials Innovation. The study’s other authors are affiliated with the University of Houston and UMD’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering.

For example, he said, polypropylene and polycarbonate separators, which are widely used in lithium-ion batteries, will take hundreds or thousands of years to degrade.

Current batteries use an often-flammable or corrosive electrolyte to shuttle ions back and forth between positively and negatively charged terminals within the battery, providing current. The new battery, which could be used to store renewable power from large-scale wind and solar sources, uses a gel electrolyte made from a biological material with many natural sources called chitosan.

“The most abundant source of chitosan is the exoskeletons of crustaceans, including crabs, shrimps, and lobsters, which can be easily obtained from seafood waste,” Hu said. “You can find it on your table.”

A biodegradable electrolyte means that about two-thirds of the battery could be broken down by microbes, with the chitosan electrolyte decomposed completely within five months. This leaves behind the metal component, in this case zinc, rather lead or lithium.

“Zinc is more abundant in earth’s crust than lithium,” said Hu. “Generally speaking, well-developed zinc batteries are cheaper and safer.”

This zinc and chitosan battery has an energy efficiency of 99.7% after 1,000 battery cycles, making it a viable option for storing energy generated by wind and solar for transfer to power grids, he said.

Hu said he and his team will continue working on making batteries that are even more environmentally friendly, including throughout the manufacturing process.

“In the future, I hope all components in batteries are biodegradable,” said Hu. “Not only the material itself but also the fabrication process of biomaterials.”

IN THE NEWS

This article, which originally appeared in Maryland Today, is based on a press release from Cell Press.

Related Articles:
Next-Generation Batteries Could Come with Lower Production Costs, Less Environmental Impact
Maryland Researchers Awarded $1.5 Million to Pioneer Batteries for Electric Rail and Maritime Transportation
Wang Develops New Battery Technology That Could Lead to Safer, High-Energy Electric Vehicles
Battery Recycling
New Sustainable Zinc Battery Design Could Address Future Energy Needs
Chunsheng Wang Presents to U.S. Government Panel on Advances in Li-Ion Battery Technology
Building Energy Innovation in Maryland
New government partner joins UMD’s Center for Research in Extreme Batteries
ARL to Fund $30M in Equipment Innovations for Service Members
University of Maryland leads team awarded $7.2M from Army Research Lab

September 7, 2022


Prev   Next

Current Headlines

In Soft Robotics, Instability Can Be a Plus

When Vision Fails, a Suit Could Steer Pilots to Safety

JC Zhao Named Dean of University of Connecticut College of Engineering

Celebrating Asian, Pacific Islander, and Desi American Engineers

Four BIOE Terps Awarded NSF Graduate Research Fellowships

Celebrating Asian Pacific Islander Desi American Heritage Month: Karenna Buco

UMD Student Awarded Wings Foundation Scholarship

Celebrating Asian Pacific Islander Desi American Heritage Month

News Resources

Return to Newsroom

Search News

Archived News

Events Resources

Events Calendar