The advent of the electric car and the pace at which automakers are rushing to it is driving an entire industry to look for solutions to make the future as clean as possible. And the focus is particularly on the production of batteries for electric vehicles.
Batteries made of Wood
The Swedish-Finnish company Stora Enso and Northvolt are joining forces to create sustainable batteries using lignin-based hard coal produced from renewable wood from Nordic forests
Stora Enso has thus specialized in the production of sustainable battery systems. The company, which has already signed contracts with major manufacturers such as BMW, Volvo and Volkswagen, has just announced that it has joined forces with Stora Enso, one of the world’s largest private forest owners to develop a battery based on wood.
The company’s official statement says, “We call the batteries that power our cars, computers, and e-bikes “lithium-ion,” but nearly 30% of the battery is graphite, a naturally occurring form of near-pure carbon. Earlier this year, Finnish forestry company Stora Enzo announced it had developed a substitute for the carbon now used in batteries, noting that China controls 84% of natural graphite supply and much of the rest was synthetic graphite made from fossil fuels”.
Carbon from lignin
The company explains that lignin is separated from wood during the production of cellulose fibers. After extracting it from the machines, the company refines the by-product into a fine carbon powder, which serves as the active material for the negative anode of the lithium-ion battery. The hard carbon powder is then used to produce electrode sheets and rolls which are then fused together with positive electrodes, separators, electrolytes and other components to make them into a lithium-ion battery.
Stora Enso makes its carbon from lignin, a natural polymer that acts like rebar for trees. It is separated from the cellulose of the trees during papermaking to prevent the paper from yellowing. There is a lot of it: the trees have between 30 and 40% lignin. The company used to burn it for heat and power, but began turning it into Lignode, a hard coal developed for batteries.
As major economies move away from fossil fuels and introduce electric mobility policies, the market for electric vehicles is booming. This means that the demand for batteries and battery materials will increase significantly in the coming years. Today, graphite is the dominant anode material used in lithium-ion batteries. According to the World Bank, graphite accounts for nearly 54% of mineral demand in batteries.
Reduce carbon footprint and costs
To be a little more specific, the objective of the two companies is to create batteries using solid carbon based on lignin, produced with renewable wood from northern forests. This material would thus replace the graphite mainly used for the design of the anodes of lithium-ion batteries. The stated objective is actually twofold: both to reduce the carbon footprint and the cost of industrializing these batteries.
As explained in the press release published on the occasion of the partnership between the two companies, lignin is a biomolecule present in the cell walls of dry plants. Trees contain 20 to 30%, making it one of the most important renewable sources of carbon.
Stora Enso plans to commercialize the technology on a large scale. With the paper industry in decline, the company is currently shifting its focus towards developing sustainable products that can replace fossil-based materials.
Lignin is the second most abundant biosource in the world after cellulose, with a potential global supply of around 50 million tons. Currently, only about 2 per cent is used for industry, with the rest only burned for energy.
A study published earlier this year by researchers in Korea detailed how lignin-based materials could also be applied to other components of rechargeable batteries, including the binder, separator, electrolyte, and cathode.
“As new strategies and applications are developed, greener and cheaper lignin-based materials will have a positive impact on our lives, creating a new paradigm,” the study authors wrote.
Climate change concerns
“In the future, the availability of materials could drop dramatically as policy interventions driven by climate change concerns further increase the electrification trend,” said Otto Kivi, senior business development specialist for battery materials in Stora Enso.
“Traditionally, graphite is used, and that material is strictly layered: ions can only enter and exit the sides of the graphite. With hard carbon made from Lignode, the anode material becomes disorganized, becoming a very open structure that makes charging and charging faster”. Therefore, time spent at charging points can be reduced, giving Lignode the potential to act as a differentiator for EV manufacturers and battery suppliers alike.”Otto Kivi
“As electric vehicles become more common, the need for charging infrastructure increases,” Kivi said. “A clear advantage is that Lignode’s structure allows the battery to charge and discharge faster than with graphitic carbon. The faster charging rates reduce the demand on charging infrastructure and enable solutions for smaller batteries per car. Currently, a lignin-based anode is the cheapest way to increase charging rates.”
Wood batteries offer 5 main benefits as a renewable energy technology:
- Scalability: Feasible to produce wooden batteries commercially due to the wide availability of the resource needed to make them: trees.
- Sustainability: By obtaining raw materials from forests with sustainability certification.
- Renewability: Using natural resources eliminates the need to manufacture batteries in China and other regions that are more carbon-intensive.
- Faster Charge: A fully functional wood battery can be charged at a faster rate than fossil fuel derived graphite.
Better performance at lower temperatures: The battery works at lower temperatures, allowing a wider range of operations.
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