Field of Science

Get Reddy to get Madder

Applied versus basic research is not really an option because to be really innovative, applied research has to be defined loosely enough to allow research to wander a great deal.  So you're interested in better lithium ion batteries?  Who isn't?  How many do you have?  The number would probably surprise you.  Use your smart phone to search for an answer.  So now a  researcher comes along and says, we need some $$$upport to investigate pigments in natural dyes.  So do you figure the cell phone people will pony up?  How about all the tablet and laptop manufacturers?  How about hybrid car companies?  Sounds like a sales pitch that just won't fly.  Well, the USA army isn't all that imaginative at times, but someone was smart enough to support such basic applied research.  A materials research group at Rice University headed by Reddy has found that a pigment in the ancient plant dye madder (Rubia tinctorium; image of madder dyed yarn) can be used as an organic component to make more environmentally friendly rechargeable batteries (here's the publication).  The pigment would replace the cobalt used in today's lithium ion batteries, which for safe recycling should have the cobalt extracted, and that's after the expense of mining and smelting the cobalt, which is also not very environmentally friendly as it releases stuff like arsenic, and trouble of manufacturing cobalt cathodes requires high temperature. So this is really big news; research that will have benefits well beyond the military.  Glad they didn't decide the results were classified.  

1 comment:

Bend said...

It's not really as big a stretch as you're making it out to be. Large molecules with extensive systems of conjugated bonds (organic dyes) are widely pursued in research for their electronic properties. This paper is fine and good, but not surprising.