Scientists have just created one of the very first eco-friendly batteries out of a baked oak leaf. Sounds crazy right? Who knew that using a carbonized oak leaf pumped full of sodium (salt) would create a battery’s negative terminal capable of holding a charge.
Recently an article from the University of Maryland was published in the journal ACS Applied Materials Interfaces where they demonstrated their oak leaf battery.
“Leaves are so abundant. All we had to do was pick one up off the ground here on campus,” said visiting professor and Author Hongbian Li, from the University of Maryland’s department of materials science and engineering.
What is so exciting about this news is that this type of battery can be made out of other eco materials such as peat moss and banana peels as well. Oak leaves were chosen for the study because they take the least amount of preparation in order to be made into a battery.
Lithium Battery Concerns
Most rechargeable batteries that are used in society today are made out of lithium. Just imagine your computer, remote control or cell phone battery and you will know what I am talking about.
When using lithium, there can be some concerns to ourselves and the environment moving forward and that is why scientists are looking for eco-friendly alternatives.
Lithium battery companies are working very hard to make sure that batteries are as safe as possible for use in our homes. Sometimes in rare cases, microscopic metal particles will come into contact with other parts of the battery cell which can cause it to short circuit. In some cases, a failed battery can explode which can expose us to dangerous battery chemicals.
Unfortunately, After we use batteries often times they end up in the trash and in the local dump when they aren’t disposed of in the proper ways.
Cleanup of environmental issues caused by lithium manufacturing is expensive both in money and the cost to our environment. According to the EPA, there was a 7 million dollar cleanup project because of an old Pennsylvania lithium processing site.
“Lithium, boron and chromium were also detected in off-site public and private wells.”
The CDC also evaluated the risks of the contamination on their site here. Long story short we must be very careful what kinds of chemicals we want to risk having dumped into our water supply because even though Lithium was used in the past as a prescription drug treatment for mental health issues, we are starting to better understand how this light metal can cause serious health issues.
Lithium toxicity can appear in the form of tremors, mild ataxia, drowsiness, muscular weakness, vomiting, and diarrhea. If you are exposed over a longer period of time then the lithium may start to block your nerves ability to communicate with your muscles.
Scientists Use Oak to Create a new Battery Alternative
Now scientists are working to make a safer eco battery that will be rechargeable just like the lithium batteries but without the consequences. So far sodium can hold a longer charge but struggles to recharge as many times as lithium at this point in time.
One of the biggest roadblocks in this project is finding a good anode material that can work with sodium since it is large than lithium. Some scientists have looked into using graphene and other materials which will retain and attract the sodium but most take too much time and money to produce. However, with the oak leaf, everything changes.
In this new case, scientists found that they could heat the oak leaf at 1,000 degrees C for an hour in order to burn off the underlying carbon structure. The structure of the leaf is also important in this discovery because the underside is covered in pores where the leaf would absorb water. In the battery design, the pores will absorb sodium electrolytes. The top of the leaf has layers of carbon that helps the leaf be tough enough to create sheets of nanostructured carbon where the sodium can be absorbed and the leaf can carry the charge.
“The natural shape of a leaf already matches a battery’s needs: a low surface area, which decreases defects; a lot of small structures packed closely together, which maximizes space; and internal structures of the right size and shape to be used with sodium electrolyte,” said author Fei Shen.
“We have tried other natural materials, such as wood fiber, to make a battery,” said assistant professor Liangbing Hu, of materials science and engineering. “A leaf is designed by nature to store energy for later use, and using leaves in this way could make large-scale storage environmentally friendly.”
According to the scientists, the next step is “to investigate different types of leaves to find the best thickness, structure and flexibility” for the electrical energy storage process. Researchers are focusing on perfecting the design and aren’t looking to commercialize right now.
Perhaps we will learn from nature the needed technology to get away from harmful chemicals and create a safer world for everyone.
Image credit: Sharon Freeman
Biden to Ban Menthol Cigarettes, Citing Health Impact on Youth and Black People
The Biden administration is reportedly planning to propose an immediate ban on menthol cigarettes, a product that has long been targeted by anti-smoking advocates and critics who claim that the tobacco industry has aggressively marketed to Black people in the U.S.
On Wednesday, the Washington Post reported that the administration could announce a ban on menthol and other flavored cigarettes as soon as this week.
Roughly 85 percent of Black smokers use such menthol brands as Newport and Kool, according to the Food and Drug Administration. Research has also found that menthol cigarettes are easier to become addicted to and harder to quit than unflavored tobacco products, along with other small cigars popular with young people and African Americans.
Civil rights advocates claim that the decision should be greeted by Black communities and people of color who have been marketed to by what they describe as the predatory tobacco industry.
Black smokers generally smoke far less than white smokers, but suffer a disproportionate amount of deaths due to tobacco-linked diseases like heart attack, stroke, and other causes.
Anti-smoking advocates like Matthew L. Myers, president of Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, also greeted the move to cut out products that appeal to children and young adults.
“Menthol cigarettes are the No. 1 cause of youth smoking in the United States,” he said. “Eliminating menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars used by so many kids will do more in the long run to reduce tobacco-related disease than any action the federal government has ever taken.”
However, groups including the American Civil Liberties Group (ACLU) has opposed the move, citing the likelihood that such an action could lead to criminal penalties arising from the enforcement of a ban hitting communities of color hardest.
In a letter to administration officials, the ACLU and other groups including the Drug Policy Alliance said that while the ban is “no doubt well-intentioned” it would also have “serious racial justice implications.”
“Such a ban will trigger criminal penalties, which will disproportionately impact people of color, as well as prioritize criminalization over public health and harm reduction,” the letter explained. “A ban will also lead to unconstitutional policing and other negative interactions with local law enforcement.”
Pollution Is Making Human Penises Shrink and Causing a Collapse of Fertility, Scientists Say
With many still scoffing at the idea of rampant pollution posing a threat to humanity, a new study could drastically change the conversation: the chemicals across our environment could be the cause of shrinking human penises.
According to a new book by Dr. Shanna H. Swan, conditions in the modern world are quickly altering the reproductive development of humans and posing a threat to our future as a species.
The argument is laid out in her new book Count Down: How Our Modern World Is Threatening Sperm Counts, Altering Male and Female Reproductive Development, and Imperiling the Future of the Human Race.
The book discusses how pollution is not only leading to skyrocketing erectile dysfunction rates and fertility decline, but also an expansion in the number of babies born with small penises.
While it may seem like good fodder for jokes, the research could portend a grim future for humanity’s ability to survive.
Swan co-authored a study in 2017 that found sperm counts had precipitously fallen in Western countries by 59 percent between 1973 and 2011. In her latest book, Swan blames chemicals for this crisis in the making.
“Chemicals in our environment and unhealthy lifestyle practices in our modern world are disrupting our hormonal balance, causing various degrees of reproductive havoc,” she wrote in the new book.
“In some parts of the world, the average twentysomething woman today is less fertile than her grandmother was at 35,” she also wrote, noting that men could have only half the sperm count of their grandfathers.
Swan blames the disruption on phthalates, the chemicals used in plastic manufacturing that also have an impact on how the crucial hormone endocrine is produced
However, experts note that the proper implementation of pollution reduction measures could help humanity prevent the collapse of human fertility.
Visualizing The World’s Deadliest Pandemics By Population Impact
Humanity has been battling against disease for centuries.
And while most contagious outbreaks have never reached full-blown pandemic status, Visual Capitalist’s Carmen Ang notes that there have been several times throughout history when a disease has caused mass devastation.
Here’s a look at the world’s deadliest pandemics to date, viewed from the lens of the impact they had on the global population at the time.
Editor’s note: The above graphic was created in response to a popular request from users after viewing our popular history of pandemics infographic initially released a year ago.
Death Toll, by Percent of Population
In the mid-1300s, a plague known as the Black Death claimed the lives of roughly 200 million people – more than 50% of the global population at that time.
Here’s how the death toll by population stacks up for other significant pandemics, including COVID-19 so far.
The specific cause of the Black Death is still up for debate. Many experts claim the 14th-century pandemic was caused by a bubonic plague, meaning there was no human-to-human transmission, while others argue it was possibly pneumonic.
Interestingly, the plague still exists today – however, it’s significantly less deadly, thanks to modern antibiotics.
History Repeats, But at Least We Keep Learning
While we clearly haven’t eradicated infection diseases from our lives entirely, we’ve at least come a long way in our understanding of what causes illness in the first place.
In ancient times, people believed gods and spirits caused diseases and widespread destruction. But by the 19th century, a scientist named Louis Pasteur (based on findings by Robert Koch) discovered germ theory – the idea that small organisms caused disease.
What will we discover next, and how will it impact our response to disease in the future?
Like this? Check out the full-length article The History of Pandemics
Republished from ZH with permission.