Products powered by lithium-ion batteries (like electric vehicles) are in high-demand, but sourcing and mining the element requires unsustainable amounts of water and energy. On top of that, it’s a scarce resource and acquiring it can be dangerous. To find an alternative, engineers from the University of Maryland created a battery using crabs whose exoskeletons are rich in useful chemicals like chitin, a natural polymer used for tissue engineering and biodegradable plastic. Using discarded crab and other crustacean shells (of which there are six to eight million tons worldwide), the engineers extracted chitosan (a derivative of chitin that works well with water) to create a semi-permeable membrane that keeps oppositely charged electrodes apart. This process helps bypass some of the irregularities formed when using zinc-based batteries, enabling theirs to operate much longer. The crab-based batteries also decompose much quicker (in only five months). Learn more about how these crustaceans could offer a sustainable alternative to lithium at Popular Mechanics.
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