Far Out! Hemp Could Power Better Super-Batteries

Industrial hemp, the non-psychoactive cousin of marijuana, can play a role in manufacturing super-powerful supercapacitors for energy storage at a cost that's far cheaper than graphene, researchers report. The hemp-based technology took center stage Tuesday at the American Chemical Society's national meeting in San Francisco. A team led by David Mitlin, an engineering professor at Clarkson University, heated up hemp fibers to create carbon nanosheets that can be used as electrodes for supercapacitors. Compared with graphene, the hemp-derived carbon is "a little bit better, but it's 1,000 times cheaper," Mitlin told NBC News.

"Supercaps" are often characterized as the super-battery of the future, but Mitlin said the technology is actually more complementary to next-generation batteries. He has started up a spin-off venture, currently called Alta Supercaps, in hopes of commercializing high-temperature energy storage systems for oil and gas exploration. (Mitlin conducted the research while at the University of Alberta.) "We're looking for partners," he said. One challenge: In the United States, growing industrial hemp is legal only for limited research purposes, and even that's been a struggle.




— Alan Boyle