Packing peanuts can help charge batteries faster

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.

The uniquitious foam chips or “packaging peanuts” used around to safely cushion products in transit are notoriously difficult to recycle, and are frequently dumped in land-fill sites where they can take decades to break down. This could be about to change thanks to a team from Purdue University in the US which has developed a process that enables the ubiquitous chips to be converted into carbon electrodes for rechargeable lithium-ion batteries that are claimed to outperform conventional graphite electrodes The anodes in most of today’s lithium-ion batteries are made of graphite. 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 method is simple and straightforward, according to Professor Vilas Pol. “Typically, the ‘peanuts’ are heated between 500 and 900°C in a furnace under inert atmosphere in the presence or absence of a transition metal salt catalyst.” According to the team, commercial anode particles are about 10 times thicker than the new anodes and have a higher electrical resistance, which increases charging time. “In our case, if we are lithiating this material during the charging of a battery it has to travel only 1µm, so you can charge and discharge a battery faster than your commercially available material,” Prof Pol said. 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. Carbon anodes derived from polystyrene packaging demonstrated a maximum specific capacity of 420mAhr/g – higher than graphite’s theoretical capacity of 372 mAh/g. “Long term electrochemical performance of these carbon electrodes is very stable,” said postdoctoral research associate Vinodkumar Etacheri. “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.” This material is protected by Findlay Media copyright See Terms and Conditions.

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.

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