Seaweed May Power Your Cellphone Someday

By Erik Lief — Apr 06, 2017
What if your mobile phone's battery was made to be longer lasting, and instead of requiring a mined mineral its essential ingredient came from a renewable source? And it was available worldwide, making the battery production process more sustainable? A scientist thinks he's on to something just like that – using seaweed.
Seaweed, a potential battery power source (photo courtesy: Shutterstock)

While much of today's portable technology can deliver stunning benefits, one well-known drawback is the limited battery power that runs these devices. 

But what if a smartphone or tablet battery could be made to be longer lasting – and instead of requiring a mined mineral its essential ingredient came from a renewable source? And what if that material was available worldwide, making the battery production process, in general, more sustainable? 

A scientist thinks he's on to something just like that. And its essential ingredient?


Imagining the next generation of lithium-ion batteries, which are widely used in common electronic devices, Dongjiang Yang, Ph.D says the chemical composition of seaweed can be nearly twice as powerful than traditional carbon materials, like graphite. In addition to batteries, graphite is also used in superconductors and fuel cells.

Dr. Yang, from China's Qingdao University, teamed with researchers from Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico to develop "porous carbon nanofibers from seaweed extract," according to a statement from the American Chemical Society, the largest scientific association in the world. Dr. Yang delivered his findings April 5 at ACS's national meeting in San Francisco. 

And the fact that seaweed is also readily available, found all over the globe in salt-water bodies and perpetually regenerates, makes it a smart ingredient to use.

“Carbon-based materials are the most versatile materials used in the field of energy storage and conversion,” he said in a statement. “We wanted to produce carbon-based materials via a really ‘green’ pathway. Given the renewability of seaweed, we chose seaweed extract as a precursor and template to synthesize hierarchical porous carbon materials.”

Standard graphite anodes for lithium-ion batteries have a capacity of 372 milliampere hours per gram, or mAhg-1, while "seaweed-derived material had a large reversible capacity of 625 mAhg-1," states the ACS. That would have the potential to "double the range of electric cars if the cathode material is of equal quality."

Dr. Yang and his fellow researchers, who have been at work on this concept since at least 2015, acknowledge that more work needs to be done to produce a sustainable seaweed-based product. But if someday they can get there, since it's already recognized as a healthy "superfood," seaweed may one day power your body and smartphone, simultaneously.