Packing peanuts are the key to fast-charging batteries

23 Mar 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Converting packing peanuts to battery components.

Many of us have shared the guilty twinge of pouring a box of packing peanuts into a trash bag, knowing that our convenient foam waste will end up sitting in a landfill for the next few thousand years. That’s because chemical engineers Vilas Pol and Vinodkumar Etacheri of Purdue University have just developed a method to turn foam peanuts into components for rechargeable batteries. The talk will be one of nearly 11,000 presentations here at the 249th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS), the world’s largest scientific society, taking place here through Thursday. He decided to do something about it, and with Etacheri’s assistance, devised a way to turn peanuts into carbon microsheets and nanoparticles that can serve as anodes in lithium ion batteries.

Research findings indicate that the new anodes can charge faster and deliver higher “specific capacity” compared to commercially available graphite anodes, Pol said. They take up a lot of space in landfills, and their light weight and large size increases the costs of transporting them to a recycling center. “It’s not typically cost-effective to recycle them,” says Etacheri, a postdoctoral researcher in the lab of Vilas Pol, Ph.D. “Only about 10 percent of the packing peanuts made in the U.S. are recycled.” In addition, packing peanuts can be potentially harmful to the environment. Although the starch-based versions are more environmentally friendly than the polystyrene peanuts, they do contain chemicals and detergents that can contaminate soil and aquatic ecosystems, posing a threat to marine animals, he said.

The new method “is a very simple, straightforward approach,” Pol said. “Typically, the peanuts are heated between 500 and 900 degrees Celsius in a furnace under inert atmosphere in the presence or absence of a transition metal salt catalyst.” “The process is inexpensive, environmentally benign and potentially practical for large-scale manufacturing,” Etacheri said. “Microscopic and spectroscopic analyses proved the microstructures and morphologies responsible for superior electrochemical performances are preserved after many charge-discharge cycles.” “In our case, if we are lithiating this material during the charging of a battery it has to travel only 1 micrometer distance, so you can charge and discharge a battery faster than your commercially available material,” Pol said. Packing-peanut-derived carbon anodes demonstrated a maximum specific capacity of 420 mAh/g (milliamp hours per gram), which is higher than the theoretical capacity of graphite (372 mAh/g), Etacheri said. “Long-term electrochemical performances of these carbon electrodes are very stable,” he said. “We cycled it 300 times without significant capacity loss.

Future work will include steps to potentially improve performance by further activation to increase the surface area and pore size to improve the electrochemical performance.” They report that their anode works so well that it outperforms commercial ones, with a storage capacity higher than graphite, a typical anode material. While those high temperatures create a more layered arrangement of carbon atoms to maximize electrical storage performance, Pol’s less-ordered materials actually have about a 15 percent higher electrical storage capacity. Due to their low density (huge containers are required for transportation), shipment to a recycler is expensive, and does not provide profit on investment.

We addressed the detrimental environmental impacts caused by polystyrene and starch based packing peanuts by upcycling them to carbon nanoparticles and microsheets, respectively for electrochemical energy storage, especially Li, and Na-ion batteries. The method described herein does not use pressurized containers, which makes them attractive for the large-scale production of carbonaceous materials for numerous applications.

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