Scientists turn to hemp for cheap, fast-charging batteries

Forget lab-made materials like graphene -- natural, old-fashioned hemp may be the ticket to our energy future. Researchers have demonstrated that you can make very efficient carbon electrodes simply by heating hemp bast fibers in a two-stage process. The resulting substance holds as much energy as graphene, but is much cheaper to make. You're just using biological leftovers, after all. It's much more tolerant of temperature extremes, too, and can survive anything from freezing conditions to a scorching 200F. And before you ask -- this is hemp, not pot, so you're not going to get a contact high just by using a battery.

It's easy to see the potential impact. Graphene is already being tested for both regular batteries and supercapacitors, which charge up almost instantly and don't degrade; it's feasible that future electric cars and mobile devices could have affordable, hemp-based energy packs that top up within seconds. The technology might also be useful as a graphene substitute in other areas, such as solar cells and touchscreens. It's not just a proof of concept, either -- a small Canadian firm is working on scaling hemp electrode production, and US production is increasingly realistic as legal hemp production expands. If all goes well, you may eventually carry a phone powered by the same plant used to make your handbag.

[Image credit: AP Photo/P. Solomon Banda]