5 February 2024
Leather is going to help extend EV range…but probably not how we imagined it, writes Is it Leather? On LinkedIn.
We are all well aware that the Global Electric Vehicle Industry snubbed leather as the material of choice in favor of activists’ rhetoric and plastic seats. But wait… ingenuity and creativity are racing in to save the day!
Look, almost “Everything but the Moo” gets used when beef cattle are processed. Their meat feeds the world, their hides are turned into leather, their hooves are used in firefighting foam, their horns are used to make buttons, their intestines are used to make tennis racquet strings, and so on. The same can be said for the leather tanning process, where almost everything has a use, from the hides to collagen and now …. leftover hair!
A group of Argentinian scientists are working on a process to discard bovine hair as a primary component in making more environmentally friendly and longer-lasting lithium batteries….WHAT??
It’s a fascinating new technology – reusing bovine hair to produce lithium-sulfur batteries. As you know, the vast majority of finished leather is sold without hair – that means it has to be removed from the hide as one of the first steps in the tanning process. Hair is among the main waste byproducts of tanneries. But now a use for this organic waste can be found!
Three scientists from Argentina are working on the answer. In a joint study between Conicet (a government agency for science and technology) and the National University of Còrdoba (UNC), they published research showing how they developed next-generation lithium-sulfur batteries with bovine hair recovered from tanneries. They first experimented with bovine hair with the intent of turning it into biofuel but made a remarkable discovery: it can be used to make batteries better.
Batteries are made with a graphite anode and a cobalt-nickel cathode, the latter of which is expensive, polluting, and scarce. This is how a battery stores energy. The Argentinian team figured out that cow hair that has been washed and cooked can be added to sulfur, which, when used as a cathode, can improve a battery’s performance. It is also more abundant, less polluting, and expensive. Sulfur needs a “skeleton” to follow in order to form the cathode. The good news is that biocarbon, which is being studied as a material to create the skeleton, can be obtained from cooking organic waste, resulting in “biochar,” which improves charging speed, among other things.
This type of battery will eventually be used in electric vehicles, potentially doubling its range! There’s already a patent for it in the U.S. It may take as long as ten years to bring the product to market, but it’s a great example of how the tanning industry is making strides to lessen leather’s carbon footprint.
Once the EV market sees how well Leather by-products help its battery range, maybe they will reconsider their ridiculous decisions on plastic interiors!