A Moment of Science

Rice Husks: A Sustainable Fuel Source?

Today we throw them away, but tomorrow rice husks may be how we power our cars.

A rice paddy in norther Laos

Photo: poida.smith (flickr)

The world's rice paddies produce some 100 million tons of husks each year. Wouldn't it be great if all that waste could be turned into fuel?

If you were asked to guess the most sustainable starchy source of vehicle fuel, you might guess corn. After all, the ethanol business is booming these days.

Numbered Days For Corn?

However, according to a study from early 2013, corn’s days in the limelight may be numbered. What will replace it? Believe it or not, an even more sustainable super source of power for our cars might come from rice!

Rice kernels have an outer husk that gets removed during food processing. That husk contains silica, which forms a rigid layer to protect the rice from insect and bacteria attacks. The silica’s nanostructure is full of pores to facilitate ventilation.

Nano-Pores

Scientists figured out how to extract the silica, and reduce it down to pure silicon. And voila! Silicon can be used to make lithium ion batteries, which are being developed to power hybrid cars!

Aren’t silicon based batteries notoriously unreliable? Well, it’s true that they currently aren’t the preferred choice in the auto industry. But here’s the thing: rice husk silicon is unique. It has that nanostructure with all the pores. As a result, rice husk batteries last longer and have more power than many other silicon based batteries.

Read More:

  • Recycling rice husks for high-capacity lithium battery anodes (PNAS)
  • Rice-husks could make much longer-lasting batteries (New Scientist)

 

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