One problem facing wind and solar power is finding an environmentally-friendly and inexpensive way to store the energy. Conventional batteries use cathodes made from metals like cobalt that are both expensive and available in limited supply. But new research into the value of a byproduct of paper production could take metals out of the equation altogether, replacing them with a gooey brown liquor.
The liquor is full of organic compounds that can be converted into quinones, molecules that transport electrons during photosynthesis, according to Discovery News. Combined with a conductive polymer, they make for a cathode that works the same way the conventional metal variety does.
The research is the work of Olle Inganas, Professor of Biomolecular and Organic Electronics at Linköping University in Sweden, and Grzegorz Milczarek, a researcher at Poznań University of Technology in Poland. The significant downside to the new type of cathode is that it loses its charge while idle. But if scientists can break past that barrier, it could be a major step on the way to a boozier, greener energy future.
The team isn't the first to see the value of the gooey liquor byproduct: it has been recovered and used as an energy source by paper mills since the 1930s.