A YOUNG Singaporean scientist says the eggplant can act as an electrocatalyst for metal-air batteries.
18-year-old Shannon Lee won the 2014 Young Scientist Award at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF).
Lee was awarded US$50,000 for developing a novel electrocatalyst that may be used for metal-air batteries of the future, in particular, zinc-air batteries for electric cars.
Lee used the Chinese eggplant as the material for the air cathode of the zinc-air batteries in her project, which, if proven, could open the way to a more sustainable, durable and energy efficient metal-air battery.
Weighing less than lithium-ion batteries, metal-air batteries are touted as the ideal replacement for use in electric cars. Lighter batteries would mean less energy wasted when transporting goods and/or people.
However, metal-air batteries are not yet proven technology. Their durability is in question, and they also cost a lot.The batteries, which use oxygen as a key component, rely on platinum, a rare and expensive metal, to act as a catalyst for the oxygen reduction reaction.
Thus the focus on alternative electrocatalysts. Lee's theories led her to carbonise eggplant, activating it and testing its performance to catalyse the oxygen reduction reaction in the air cathode of a zinc-air battery.
The carbonised eggplant was found to have far exceeded the performance of platinum carbon in terms of stability.
Lee also tried using apples, but they did not work as well.
Lee’s findings were submitted to a national science fair and later, submitted to Intel’s ISEF, where Lee edged out some 1,700 young scientists from more than 70 countries, regions and territories to take a place in the top three in Los Angeles.