Idea for new battery material isn’t nuts

Recycled packing peanuts turn into carbon microsheets that can boost battery power

packing peanuts

PEANUT POWER  Squishy packing peanuts can transform into cheap, efficient battery parts.

Gabriel Herrera/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

DENVER — Packed into boxes, foam peanuts provide gentle protection. But stuffed into a lithium-ion battery, they pack a powerful electrical punch, researchers reported March 23 at the national meeting of the American Chemical Society.

When baked and crushed, packing peanuts made of starch or polystyrene transform into irregular fragments of carbon-containing microsheets and nanoparticles. Squeezed into the negative end of a lithium-ion battery, the peanuts’ wee, jumbled remains provide lots of surface area for contact with ion-containing battery fluids, boosting performance during charging and draining. In prototype batteries, the baked peanuts reduced charging times. They also increased the amount of charge that a battery can hold by about 13 percent compared with the maximum capacity of commercial lithium-ion batteries that use graphite.

Foam peanuts get a second life as battery electrodes. Vilas Pol and members of his team at Purdue University talk about their research on recycling packing materials. American Chemical Society

A second life for packing peanuts could also cut down on environmentally damaging waste, says chemical engineer Vilas Pol of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., lead researcher on the study. Only about 10 percent of packing peanuts get recycled; when they end up in landfills, they can leach harmful chemicals such as heavy metals into the environment, Pol says.

With such simple ingredients and baking process for the anodes, Pol expects the batteries will be cheaper than current lithium-ion batteries. The researchers are working toward a commercial version of their packing peanut-based battery.

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