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Glow-in-the-dark dye could fuel liquid-based batteries

Could a glow-in-the-dark dye be the next advancement in energy storage technology?

Scientists at the University at Buffalo think so.

First author Anjula M. Kosswattaarachchi, a UB PhD student in chemistry, holds a volumetric flask containing BODIPY dye. Credit: Douglas Levere

First author Anjula M. Kosswattaarachchi, a UB PhD student in chemistry, holds a volumetric flask containing BODIPY dye. Credit: Douglas Levere

They have identified a fluorescent dye called BODIPY as an ideal material for stockpiling energy in rechargeable, liquid-based batteries that could one day power cars and homes.

BODIPY — short for boron-dipyrromethene — shines brightly in the dark under a black light.

A glowing solution of BODIPY dye under a black light. A UB study shows that the dye has interesting chemical properties that could make it an ideal material for use in large-scale rechargeable batteries. Credit: Douglas Levere

A glowing solution of BODIPY dye under a black light. A UB study shows that the dye has interesting chemical properties that could make it an ideal material for use in large-scale rechargeable batteries. Credit: Douglas Levere

But the traits that facilitate energy storage are less visible. According to new research, the dye has unusual chemical properties that enable it to excel at two key tasks: storing electrons and participating in electron transfer. Batteries must perform these functions to save and deliver energy, and BODIPY is very good at them.

In experiments, a BODIPY-based test battery operated efficiently and with longevity, running well after researchers drained and recharged it 100 times.

“As the world becomes more reliant on alternative energy sources, one of the huge questions we have is, ‘How do we store energy?’ What happens when the sun goes down at night, or when the wind stops?” says lead researcher Timothy Cook, PhD, an assistant professor of chemistry in the University at Buffalo College of Arts and Sciences. “All these energy sources are intermittent, so we need batteries that can store enough energy to power the average house.”

The research was published on Nov. 16 in ChemSusChem, an academic journal devoted to topics at the intersection of chemistry and sustainability.