Seaweed: Can This Edible Alga Make Our Batteries Better?

Seaweed is also known as microalgae, a family of organisms that contains several species of macroscopic, multicellular and marine algae. Marine algae prove to be very useful in the sea, as it acts as a nursery for fish and other aquatic species. All kinds of seaweed species also play a pivotal role in the capturing of carbon, thus producing up to 90% of the oxygen on the planet. Now that we have a gist of how vital seaweed is, let’s take a brief look into its ecology and how it’s a vital source of food.

seaweed

(Photo Credit : Grubio–1/Wikimedia Commons)

Ecology and Food

To provide a sustainable and natural habitat for the seaweed to grow, two major ecological requirements are essential. The first is the presence of seawater or—if grown artificially—the presence of brackish water. The second bare minimum is a sufficient presence of light to drive the photosynthetic process. Another important factor is for the seaweed to have a fair attachment point to root themselves firmly to the ground. However, there are a few exceptions to this, as some species of seaweed such as Sargassum and Gracilaria float freely. For these reasons, seaweed usually inhabits a part of the sea close to the shore known as the littoral area. The littoral zone or nearshore is the part of a sea, lake or river that is close to the shore. In coastal environments, the littoral zone extends from the high water mark, which is rarely inundated, to shoreline areas that are permanently submerged.

Wakame Salad Seaweed Food Cooking

(Photo credit: Maxpixel)

Seaweed is a food source that is primarily consumed by coastal people, particularly those inhabiting East Asia (e.g., Japan, China and Korea), South East Asia (e.g., Thailand, Burma and Malaysia), and also in South Africa, Belize, Peru, Chile, the Canadian Maritimes, Scandinavia, South West England, Ireland, Wales, California and Scotland. Seaweed is also harvested or cultivated for the extraction of alginate, agar, and carrageenan, gelatinous substances collectively known as hydrocolloids or phycocolloids. Hydrocolloids have attained commercial significance as food additives. The food industry exploits their gelling, water-retaining, emulsifying and other physical properties. Agar is used in foods such as confectionery items, meat and poultry products, desserts and beverages. Carrageenan is used in salad dressings and sauces, dietetic foods, and as a preservative in meat and fish products, dairy items and baked goods.

Powering Batteries

agar

(Photo credit: Pixabay)

Now, the thing about batteries is that they’re used to hold a certain amount of charge for a stipulated period. Unfortunately, today’s batteries become pretty lousy at holding the charge as time and usage of the battery increases. However, some scientists believe that this drawback of today’s modern batteries can be rectified with the help of seaweed. Presently, the most famous kinds of batteries are Lithium Sulphur and Lithium-ion batteries, but Lithium Sulphur batteries are pretty cheap and are therefore in wider circulation. There is a reason why Lithium Sulphur batteries are cheap… the sulphur dissolves rapidly when kept in the case of a battery casing. The sulphur is the key agent that holds the electric components in the battery together to ensure the electric circuit doesn’t break. When the sulphur does completely dissolve, it leads to the battery losing its ability to hold on to the charge.

lithium sulfer battry

(Photo credit: US National Archives)

Scientists from the Lawrence Berkley National Lab have tried to replace this sulphur component with Red Seaweed. A derivative of Red Seaweed, known as Carrageenan (already discussed above), can be used as a binder to stabilize the Lithium Sulphur battery. Carrageenan is typically used as a food thickener and works as a synthetic polymer. When mixed with sulphur, it creates a remarkably stable electrode—using a material that is both naturally occurring and cost-effective. When used as a battery binder, it proves effective in keeping the active battery components together by reacting with the sulphur and ensuring it does not degenerate at its average rate, but at a much slower rate. This effectively extends the life of the Lithium Sulphur battery. The primary aim is for a seaweed-battery to reach a 1,000-cycle recharge capacity, which would ultimately revolutionize how Lithium Sulphur is perceived, ushering in a new age of more stable battery systems that remain cost-effective.

References:

  1. Seaweed
  2. Wired
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About the Author:

Venkatesh is an Electrical and Electronics Engineer from SRM Institute of Science and Technology, India. He is deeply fascinated by Robotics and Artificial Intelligence. He is also a chess aficionado, He likes studying chess classics from the 1800 and 1900’s. He enjoys writing about science and technology as he finds the intricacies which come with each topic fascinating.

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