Pollen Grains Structures Could Improve Battery Storage


Photo Cortesy of nature.com

This photo illustrates the two pollen sources utilized in this study and their correponding carbon architecture. The cattail pollens were obtained from locally grown cattail plants, while the bee pollens were initally collected from flowers by foraging bees.

Scientists at Purdue University, in West Lafayette, Indiana have recently discovered that pollen grains, with their unique microstructures, could useful as a more efficient type of energy storage, according to thestack.com.

The discovery came about because, “I started looking into pollens when my mom told me she had developed pollen allergy symptoms about two years ago. I was fascinated by the beauty and diversity of pollen microstructures when I looked them up on google, according to Jialiang Tang (Jimmy), a chemical engineering student at Purdue University.” But at that time, it was just something mindboggling that nature has developed.  The idea of using them as battery anodes did not really kick in until I started working on battery research and learned more about carbonization of biomass.”

“The scientists took the pollen from honeybees and common wetland plant cattails, and formed little pieces of carbon by heating them to 600 degrees Celsius in a space filled with argon gas to prevent it from burning. The pollen-based carbon was then reheated to create more empty pockets in the structure, increasing its energy storage capacity,” according to thestack.com.

“My work on pollen is mainly driven by two questions: 1) Can I turn pollen, a common allergen source … into something useful? 2) How will morphological differences in pollen affect battery performance?” Tang reported.

According to livescience.com, “Batteries are made up of three main parts: electrodes, an electrolyte and a separator. Each battery has two electrodes. One is the cathode, which is the positively charged end of the battery. The other is the anode, or the negatively charged end of the battery. The electrolyte runs through the anode and the cathode, divided by a separator, to create a current of electricity.”

“The researchers processed the pollen under high temperatures in a chamber containing argon gas using a procedure called pyrolysis, yielding pure carbon in the original shape of the pollen particles. They were further processed, or “activated,” by heating at lower temperature – about 300 degrees Celsius – in the presence of oxygen, forming pores in the carbon structures to increase their energy-storage capacity,” according to purdue.edu.

“My hope for this work is to uncover interesting applications of pollen as renewable resources, especially in the area of energy storage,” according to Tang. “I also plan to collaborate with other Purdue researchers who specialize in modeling to understand the morphological impacts of pollen derived carbon on battery performance.”