Processing tech converts packing peanuts to battery components

23 Mar 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Don’t throw away the packing peanuts, they can charge your gadget.

Researchers have developed a way of turning the so-called ‘packing peanuts’ into carbon, which can then be added to the types of lithium batteries used in everyday gadgets. A new study from researchers at Purdue University illustrates a new and interesting way to make use of those packing peanuts you see in packages – the creation of faster-charging rechargeable batteries.

During tests the packing peanut-based batteries could store 15 per cent more power than current technology – and they even outperformed similar batteries made of graphite. ‘I looked at the packing peanuts and thought that while we are exploring “green” technologies, we should not be harming the environment by throwing them away,’ he said. By comparison, an iPhone 6 battery has a total storage capacity of 1810mAh and weighs 0.9oz (28 grams), while the theoretical capacity of graphite is 372 mAh/g.

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 team will present their paper “Upcycling of Packing-Peanuts into Carbon Microsheet Anodes for Lithium-Ion Batteries” at the 249th American Chemical Society National Meeting & Exposition in Denver taking place from March 22 to 26. Typically researchers make similar microsheets using temperatures as high as 2,200°C (4,100°F), meaning Dr Pol’s method uses less energy and is more environmentally friendly. Vinodkumar Etacheri, Chulgi Nathan Hong, and Vilas Pol of Purdue University’s School of Chemical Engineering came up with the idea after getting shipping boxes full of laboratory equipment—and a whole lot of packing peanuts. The researchers envision a process in which consumers could send leftover packing to suppliers and manufacturers, where they would receive the treatment. “Although packing peanuts are used worldwide as a perfect solution for shipping, they are notoriously difficult to break down, and only about 10 percent are recycled,” Pol said in a statement announcing the findings. “Due to their low density, huge containers are required for transportation and shipment to a recycler, which is expensive and does not provide much profit on investment.” “Long-term electrochemical performances of these carbon electrodes are very stable,” Etacheri said in the statement. “We cycled it 300 times without significant capacity loss.

Vilas Pol suggested a pathway to do something useful with these peanuts.” This simple suggestion led to a potential new eco-friendly application for the packaging waste. These anodes are, once again, much more effective than the anodes used on earlier and existing rechargeable batteries; benefits include faster charging and higher specific capacity, and of course, a more practical use for packing peanuts. From there, it’s easy to convert them into battery components called anodes, where lithium or sodium ions reside when a rechargeable battery is charged. The new method “is a very simple, straightforward approach,” Pol said. “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.” “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.

Pol is optimistic that his new process could be scaled up and says that foam-based carbon microsheets and nanoparticles may be ready for commercial use within two years. 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.” Establish your company as a technology leader. At the same time, the anodes produced this way are very thin—about a thousandth of a centimeter across—so that ions can travel across them very quickly, meaning batteries built this way would be able to charge faster than others. In an email, Pol writes that if commercial manufacturers are interested, it would probably take just about two years to bring to market—it’s really that straightforward to make the anodes from raw packing peanuts.

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