Longer lasting batteries? Leaves have the answer

By Adam Tinworth

12/04/2017 | We all want longer-lasting batteries, right? I'm off camping (well, glamping) with the family next now, and being in the middle of the woods with no access to power makes me sweat, thinking about the likely life of my phone. A couple of external chargers in the tent will keep me going, I hope.

But the very woods I'll be camping in, that will be sheltering our yurt, might provide the inspiration for a whole new generation of battery technology:

The researchers have designed a porous material that utilises a vascular structure, such as that found in the veins of a leaf, and could make energy transfers more efficient. The material could improve the performance of rechargeable batteries, optimizing the charge and discharge process and relieving stresses within the battery electrodes, which, at the moment, limit their life span.

The answer lies within nature…

To design this bio-inspired material, an international team comprising scientists from China, the United Kingdom, United States and Belgium is mimicking the rule known as ‘Murray’s Law’ which helps natural organisms survive and grow. According to this Law, the entire network of pores existing on different scales in such biological systems is interconnected in a way to facilitate the transfer of liquids and minimize resistance throughout the network. The plant stems of a tree, or leaf veins, for example, optimize the flow of nutrients for photosynthesis with both high efficiency and minimum energy consumption by regularly branching out to smaller scales. In the same way, the surface area of the tracheal pores of insects remains constant along the diffusion pathway to maximize the delivery of carbon dioxide and oxygen in gaseous forms.

Fascinating stuff - and something to ponder as I lay on the ground, staring at the leaf canopy overhead…