The Loh Down On Science

Dye Hard

Get ready for a real dye hard battery.

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with The Loh Down on Science.

Lithium ion batteries power everything from laptops to cell phones. Trouble is, they're expensive to make and quite toxic. That's because they use metals like cobalt, which are finite. Disposing of them is also costly, and releases greenhouse gases.

Enter the rose madder, a plant used to create orange, red, and pink dyes for thousands of years. Scientists recently dissolved a madder-root compound called purpurin in an alcohol solvent. After adding lithium salt to the solution, they found that, like cobalt, purpurin can carry an electric charge! Thus, it could substitute for metals in battery electrodes. It's not as good, but it's also not as bad. Environmentally, that is.

Abundant and easy to grow, madder soaks up carbon dioxide. So before even being converted into a battery, the components are already cleaning the environment! Purpurin is also non-toxic.

This green battery should be available in a few years, just in time for Apple’s next smartphone--the iPlant. Well, we can dream.

The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, with 89.3 KPCC Pasadena, California. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

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