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Soy powers new eco-friendly battery

Scientists at the Kansas Polymer Research Center have invented a new kind of battery that is more eco-friendly.

While that’s good news, equally good news is that they invent­ed it by transforming a product that is plentiful in the heartland: soy. Or rather, crop residue after soybeans have been harvested.

“We’re using the stems, leaves, shells—things that would otherwise have no commercial value—to produce activated carbon material, and suddenly that has tremendous value,” said Associate Professor of Chemistry Ram Gupta, the chief researcher for the project.

Soybeans are the No. 1 crop in Missouri, and one of the top 10 crops in Kansas. A grant from the Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council using soy checkoff dollars funded Gupta’s research in the KPRC labs, located on the campus of Pittsburg State University.

Demand for batteries is growing rapidly, about 10% to 12% annually in what has become a $100 billion industry globally. The invention is aimed at replacing the more costly conventional activated carbon-based batteries made from fossil fuels. A patent is pending, and once it’s finalized, the new technology will be available for licensing to commercial buyers.

“This is important to farmers, to jobs, to green energy,” Gupta said. “It adds value to soybeans and creates a new market.”

In future projects, the research team plans to produce a dual carbon battery, with both electrodes made of biomass.

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