Today’s Solutions: May 22, 2022

While the world is steadily moving towards a predominantly battery-powered future, conventional batteries still pose a few major sustainability- and efficiency-related challenges. Seeking to come up with a solution, Finnish designer Stora Enso is working on a wood-based material that could produce sustainable battery power.

To that end, the designers have recently built a production facility costing €10 million that will create renewable bio-based carbon by turning sustainably sourced trees into batteries — a process that will involve the use of a wood-based material called lignin.

After cellulose, lignin is the second most abundant organic material found on Earth and is found in the walls of plant cells, helping plants maintain a firm and woody structure and preventing them from rotting. Overall, it makes up around a third of all wood’s total composition.

What’s particularly attractive about this non-toxic material is that the carbon it contains can be used to substitute the fossil fuels and mined metals found in conventional lithium-ion batteries, which typically require graphite to function. Graphite, in its turn, is made through a chemical reaction in unrenewable carbon compounds.

As explained by Euronews, lignin is separated from wood during the production of cellulose fibers from its pulp. The organic polymer is then refined into a lightweight carbon powder which is made into electrode sheets and combined with other battery components in order to replace graphite.

Currently, almost all portable electronics are powered by lithium-ion batteries. According to Stora Enso, transitioning these to their renewable lignin-based energy technology has a number of benefits: Scalability (it’s viable to produce the batteries on a larger scale since trees are widely available); sustainability (the manufacturers pledge to only source their materials from sustainability-certified forests); and faster charging (lignin-based batteries have the capacity to charge at a faster rate than their lithium-ion counterparts).

As electric cars sales increase at a steady rate — along with the exponential rise of e-mobility — coming up with alternative ways to power these vehicles sustainably is a key priority. Lignin-based carbon seems to be a great candidate for this job.

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