Ever wish that horrifying, stringy algae all over the beach would just go away? What if researchers scooped it all up and used it to create batteries? A team at Uppsala University in Sweden did just that, according to an article on MSNBC.com's Live Science. Author Charles Q. Choi describes the efforts of nanotechnologist Maria Strømme, who has worked with the hair-like Cladophora algae to discover its ability to "dramatically increase the amount of conducting polymer available for use" in an electronic device, which allows it to hold a charge and discharge electricity.
Strømme's team aims to build paper-thin cellulose batteries that are biodegradable and, thus, more environmentally friendly than regular batteries. The experimental algae batteries are so far holding more charge than other, similar polymer batteries, and Strømme hopes they might someday compete with traditional lithium batteries. Her prototype already recharges much faster than metal batteries, rebooting in less than 10 minutes compared to over an hour for commercial AA's.
Another perceived advantage of the new polymer cellulose batteries is their ability to hold a charge for a longer period of time. Choi writes that "a comparable polymer battery showed a 50 percent drop in the amount of charge it could hold after 60 cycles of discharging and recharging, [but] the new battery showed just a 6 percent loss through 100 charging cycles." Gustav Nyström, an electrochemist on the Uppsala team, explains that the improved lifespan is due to the thin layers. The thicker materials in traditional batteries turn into insulators and cause the battery to lose energy storage capacity.
The research team's aim is not to replace or even compete with traditional batteries, but they do want to change and expand available applications of batteries. Choi envisions wrapping paper that could light up with "Happy Birthday" or other messages while Strømme imagines clothing or wallpaper or other "flexible electronics" as future homes for the batteries.