Spinach is transformed into battery catalysts that can power electric cars and military gear


Scientists transform spinach into a catalyst for batteries that can power anything from electric cars to military equipment

  • Spinach can be used as a cheaper and safer catalyst for batteries that power anything from smartphones to electric cars and military equipment
  • Researchers transformed the vegetable into carbon nanosheets by washing, freezing and grinding it, and then ‘doping’ the results with nitrogen
  • They can be used in  hydrogen fuel cells and metal-air batteries, and were found to outperform platinum-based catalysts

Spinach is known for being a hearty, green vegetable packed with nutrients, but scientists found it does not only provide humans with energy – it can power batteries.

Researchers at the American University converted the leafy form into carbon nanosheets that help to accelerate an oxygen reduction reaction in fuel cells and metal-air batteries.

The team put the vegetable through a multi-step process that included washing, juicing and freeze-drying, manually grinding it into a fine powder with a mortar and ‘doping‘ the results with nitrogen.

The plant-based innovation was found to outperform platinum-based catalysts and experts believe it could be used power anything from electric cars, to smartphones and military equipment.

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Researchers at the American University converted spinach into carbon nanosheets that help to accelerate an oxygen reduction reaction in fuel cells and metal-air batteries

Researchers at the American University converted spinach into carbon nanosheets that help to accelerate an oxygen reduction reaction in fuel cells and metal-air batteries

Shouzhong Zou, chemistry professor at the American University and the paper’s lead author, said: ‘This work suggests that sustainable catalysts can be made for an oxygen reduction reaction from natural resources.’

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‘The method we tested can produce highly active, carbon-based catalysts from spinach, which is a renewable biomass. In fact, we believe it outperforms commercial platinum catalysts in both activity and stability.

‘The catalysts are potentially applicable in hydrogen fuel cells and metal-air batteries.’

Not only does the spinach-based nanosheets outperform platinum-based versions, but the team notes it is also inexpensive and a natural source that could replace toxic options.

The plant-based innovation was found to outperform platinum-based catalysts and experts believe it could be used power anything from electric cars, to smartphones and military equipment

The plant-based innovation was found to outperform platinum-based catalysts and experts believe it could be used power anything from electric cars, to smartphones and military equipment

Catalysts accelerate an oxygen reduction reaction to produce sufficient current and create energy. 

Among the practical applications for the research are fuel cells and metal-air batteries, which power electric vehicles and types of military gear. 

Other research is making progress with other prototypes made from plants using grass and rice.

However, Zou and his team’s work is the first to use spinach, which they said survives low temperatures and is easy to grow – making the leafy vegetable an ideal candidate.

And the greens are rich in iron and nitrogen, which are essentials for this type of catalyst.

The transformation began by washing, juicing and freeze-drying the spinach, manually grinding it into a fine powder with a mortar and pestle, and ‘doping’ the resulting carbon nanosheet with extra nitrogen to improve its performance.

Carbon nanosheets are similar to pieces of paper, but on the nanometer scale, which are a thousand times thinner than hair.  

However, conventional sheets can be expectancy and tend to lose their potency over time. 

‘The method we tested can produce highly active, carbon-based catalysts from spinach, which is a renewable biomass,’ said Zou.

‘In fact, we believe it outperforms commercial platinum catalysts in both activity and stability.’

‘The catalysts are potentially applicable in hydrogen fuel cells and metal-air batteries,’ Zou adds.



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