With the decline of paper and the increase in demand for electric vehicles (EVs), scientists are trying to find other ways to be more sustainable; and, when searching for eco-friendly methods of making batteries, they looked to trees. As automotive companies continue making EVs and the general public embraces them, battery demand has risen substantially. Stora Enso, a major paper producer in Finland, discovered that things were changing in the paper-producing world. The company calls itself “one of the largest private forest owners in the world.” Therefore, the company has access to many trees, which are used to make wood products; and now, Stora Enso wants to make batteries for EVs that can be fully charged in under 10 minutes.
Stora Enso has increased its sustainability measures, which primarily aim to combat climate change; this starts with replacing the graphite typically found in batteries with “something more renewable” — in this case, batteries made from trees. These days, the graphite in batteries is typically mined or procured from petroleum-based sources, which leads to environmental and social problems. Just as EVs are expanding at a rapid rate, so is the battery industry, as we as a global society transition away from utilizing fossil-based materials.
Source: YouTube/Stora Enso
So, how can we make batteries out of trees? Well, lignin is what makes up 20 to 30 percent of trees, where it “acts as a binder and gives wood its stiffness and resistance to rotting.” Lignin can be used to help produce cellulose fiber, which makes it one of the largest renewable sources of carbon in existence. However, lignin has often been burnt for energy purposes; fortunately, when Stora Enso turns the lignin into hard carbon, this makes it much more sustainable and useful. When the Finnish company is creating tree-based batteries, it does so by first separating the lignin from the wood while cellulose fibers are being produced. Then, they extract the lignin from their machines and refine the by-product into a “fine carbon powder.” This will become the active material for “the negative anode of the lithium-ion battery,” and the powder is utilized to make electrode rolls and sheets, which are fused with separators, electrolytes, positive electrodes, and other materials to make up a lithium-ion battery.
While this type of lignin-based carbon will typically be used in batteries meant for EVs, it can also be used in batteries for certain energy storage systems, as well as for consumer electronics. Stora Enso’s new carbon product is called Lignode, and the company plans to produce a supply chain for the European market’s lithium-ion battery industry. The company aims to offer “the most sustainable and lowest-impact anode material available, to meet the eco-friendly mindset of future consumers.” They claim that their lignin “has superior traceability with sustainable raw-material management certificates.” Only time will tell how effective and popular tree-based batteries end up being.
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