Adam Freeman has created an algae-based “living battery,” but will it revolutionize rechargeable battery technology as we know it? In other words, could it even replace lithium-ion batteries?
Currently, lithium-ion batteries are the best technology we have for portable electronic and electrical devices, from smartphones to electric vehicles. On the one hand, it’s a good technology for at least a few reasons. First, it can be cycled, that is, charged and discharged, a few hundred times, so it has a long lifespan. Second, it’s energy-dense, holding more Wh/kg (watt-hours per kilogram) than any other long-lived battery chemistry.
On the other hand, lithium-ion batteries do have a couple of drawbacks. First, their reliance on rare-earth metals makes them exceptionally expensive. Second, mining some of these materials has been blamed for some nasty pollution problems. Third, they’re flammable, which can present a problem in mobile applications. Finally, especially noticeable in electric vehicles, they need hours for a full charge or, at the very least, access to a specialized charging station.
Adam Freeman’s new company, alGAS, claims to have solved the problems with lithium-ion batteries, with a new algae-based “living battery.” A lot of research has gone into algae-based alternative fuels, for example, but nothing quite like Freeman’s approach. Freeman claims his algae battery could be up to 200x more energy-dense than a lithium-ion battery, but can charge in just seconds. Also, because it is a plant, it is self-growing, self-maintaining, non-polluting, even generating oxygen as it grows. The key to Freeman’s battery is the addition of thin fibrous material added to the algae growing tanks, which allows ions to travel faster while cycling.
If Freeman’s algae-based battery does replace lithium-ion, I’m wondering how you would have to maintain the battery pack. Certainly access to plenty of sunlight and fresh water, not to mention some kind of respiration interface, would be a requirement. In a Tesla Model S P850-A (850 kWh algae battery?), the worst a crash might do is make the road slippery.
Image © AlGAS