Florida Trend | Florida's Business Authority

FSU research team turns plant material into larger capacity batteries


From Plants to Batteries

A Florida State University research team has developed a way to use a common material found in plants to help create safer, larger capacity batteries. By incorporating lignin — an organic compound in the cell walls of plants that makes them rigid — the team has created a type of electrolyte compound, says professor Hoyong Chung.

Electrolytes, which separate the negative and positive terminals of a battery, can be either liquid or solid, and each type has its strengths and weaknesses. “Liquid electrolytes are good conductors of ions, but solid electrolytes are typically safer, stronger and can be used at higher temperatures than liquid versions,” says Chung.

To create their new type of solid electrolyte, Chung, assisted by associate professor Daniel Hallinan Jr., combined lignin with the synthetic polymer polyethylene glycol. Along with increasing the range of temperatures at which a solid electrolyte battery can safely operate, lignin also makes batteries more sustainable.

Lignin is cheap and abundant. About 50 million tons are produced each year globally — most as a waste product from the paper industry. “This is a way to improve battery performance and to do so in a sustainable way,” Chung says. “Batteries will be even more important in the future, so improving their technology is crucial.”


  • Bay County commissioners have approved an expansion of the tourist development taxing district to land owned by the St. Joe Co. Bay Commissioner Philip Griffitts says the Tourist Development Council has been working with St. Joe to expand the district around the new $35-million, 160- acre Panama City Beach Sports Complex. Typically, such a move would require approval of voters. However, the new territory covered by the expanded tax district is uninhabited, and the land is owned solely by St. Joe, which voluntarily agreed to be in the tax district, says Griffitts. The expansion of the tax district will include hotels being developed around the new sports complex. “Now, with the evolution of the sports facility, there are new hotels popping up outside the existing tax district, and we've been working with St. Joe to voluntarily join the tax district," says Griffitts.


  • Marlene Santos, president of Gulf Power, has left the company to become executive vice president and chief customer officer at Pacific Gas and Electric Company in California. Meanwhile, Plant Crist, which recently converted from coal to natural gas, has been renamed Gulf Clean Energy Center to reflect owner NextEra’s plans to generate cleaner and more sustainable electric power.


  • Panama City commissioners have approved a $305-million infrastructure plan aimed at improving the city’s drinking water, wastewater and stormwater systems. The multi-year project will use a combination of federal disaster aid, as a result of Hurricane Michael damage, along with state loans to cover the cost. The 2018 Category 5 hurricane caused massive flooding and overwhelmed the city’s outdated stormwater management system. The disaster relief money from FEMA will total approximately $192 million. To make up the difference, commissioners are pursuing a $113-million loan from the state’s revolving fund program.


  • A 40-bed rehabilitation hospital in Pensacola is set to open this fall. Kayla Feasell, CEO of Encompass Health Rehabilitation Hospital of Pensacola, says the facility will treat patients from area hospitals that are recovering from stroke, spinal cord or brain injuries and complex orthopedic conditions. The facility is also capable of caring for patients recovering from the coronavirus.


  • The Georgia-Pacific Foley Cellulose Mill near Perry has returned to full operation, more than nine months after idling two of three production lines and cutting its workforce by 30%. GP Foley is Taylor County’s largest private employer with an average of 650 workers at full capacity.


  • American Airlines will begin daily, non-stop service from Pensacola International Airport to LaGuardia Airport in New York City this summer. The Texas-based carrier says the service will begin in June and run through September.
  • Southwest Airlines has launched service to Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport. The Texas-based carrier now offers non-stop service to Nashville three times daily and once-daily flights to Dallas and Baltimore. Southwest also announced it is adding three temporary non-stop destinations this spring at Pensacola International Airport. The one-month trial routes include daily flights to Atlanta and Saturday-only flights to Chicago Midway and St. Louis, Mo.


  • Ascension Sacred Heart Pensacola has begun treating patients with mild to moderate symptoms of COVID-19 by using a monoclonal antibody called bamlanivimab. To be effective, the neutralizing antibody must be infused into a patient within 10 days of exhibiting the first symptoms but before they are sick enough to be hospitalized.
  • Bay County District Schools approved a policy that reduces the quarantining distance between students from six feet to three feet. The board-approved policy means that students appropriately wearing their masks and who were at least three feet at all times from a COVID-19-positive student in a classroom or on a bus will not have to quarantine at home. The change came before updated guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control allowing for three feet of separation.


Read more in Florida Trend's May issue.
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