Blood molecule key to more efficient batteries

October 20, 2016 by William Weir, Yale University
Blood molecule key to more efficient batteries
Credit: Michael S. Helfenbein

A molecule that transports oxygen in blood could be key to developing the next generation of batteries, and in a way that's environmentally friendly.

Lithium-oxygen (Li-O2) batteries have emerged in recent years as a possible successor to batteries—the industry standard for consumer electronics—due to their potential for holding a charge for a very long time. Electronic devices would go for weeks without charging, for instance; electric cars could travel four to five times longer than the current standard.

But before this could happen, researchers need to make the Li-O2 batteries efficient enough for commercial application and prevent the formation of , a solid precipitate that covers the surface of the batteries' oxygen electrodes. One obstacle is finding a catalyst that efficiently facilitates a process known as oxygen evolution reaction, in which lithium oxide products decompose back into lithium ions and oxygen gas.

The Yale lab of Andre Taylor, associate professor of chemical and environmental engineering, has identified a molecule known as heme that could function as a better catalyst. The researchers demonstrated that the heme molecule improved the Li-O2 cell function by lowering the amount of energy required to improve the battery's charge/discharge cycle times.

The results appear Oct. 19 in Nature Communications. The lead author is Won-Hee Ryu, a former postdoctoral researcher in Taylor's lab, who is now an assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering at Sookmyung Women's University in South Korea.

The heme is a molecule that makes up one of the two parts of a hemoglobin, which carries oxygen in the blood of animals. Used in an Li-O2 battery, Ryu explained, the molecule would dissolve into the battery's electrolytes and act as what's known as a redox mediator, which lowers the energy barrier required for the electrochemical reaction to take place.

"When you breathe in air, the heme molecule absorbs oxygen from the air to your lungs and when you exhale, it transports carbon dioxide back out," Taylor said. "So it has a good binding with oxygen, and we saw this as a way to enhance these promising lithium-air batteries."

The researchers added that their discovery could help reduce the amount of animal waste disposal.

"We're using a biomolecule that traditionally is just wasted," said Taylor. "In the animal products industry, they have to figure out some way to dispose of the blood. Here, we can take the heme molecules from these waste products and use it for renewable energy storage."

Ryu noted that by using recyclable biowaste as a catalyst material, the technology is both effective and could be preferential in developing green energy applications.

Explore further: Advancing lithium-air batteries with development of novel catalyst

More information: Won-Hee Ryu et al. Heme biomolecule as redox mediator and oxygen shuttle for efficient charging of lithium-oxygen batteries, Nature Communications (2016). DOI: 10.1038/ncomms12925

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Researchers 3-D print electronics and cells directly on skin

April 25, 2018

In a groundbreaking new study, researchers at the University of Minnesota used a customized, low-cost 3D printer to print electronics on a real hand for the first time. The technology could be used by soldiers on the battlefield ...

Balancing nuclear and renewable energy

April 25, 2018

Nuclear power plants typically run either at full capacity or not at all. Yet the plants have the technical ability to adjust to the changing demand for power and thus better accommodate sources of renewable energy such as ...

Electrode shape improves neurostimulation for small targets

April 24, 2018

A cross-like shape helps the electrodes of implantable neurostimulation devices to deliver more charge to specific areas of the nervous system, possibly prolonging device life span, says research published in March in Scientific ...

China auto show highlights industry's electric ambitions

April 22, 2018

The biggest global auto show of the year showcases China's ambitions to become a leader in electric cars and the industry's multibillion-dollar scramble to roll out models that appeal to price-conscious but demanding Chinese ...

After Facebook scrutiny, is Google next?

April 21, 2018

Facebook has taken the lion's share of scrutiny from Congress and the media about data-handling practices that allow savvy marketers and political agents to target specific audiences, but it's far from alone. YouTube, Google ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.