New processing technology converts packing peanuts to battery components

March 22, 2015 by Emil Venere
This schematic depicts a process for converting waste packing peanuts into high-performance carbon electrodes for rechargeable lithium-ion batteries that outperform conventional graphite electrodes, representing an environmentally friendly approach to reuse the waste. Credit: Purdue University image/Vinodkumar Etacheri

Researchers have shown how to convert waste packing peanuts into high-performance carbon electrodes for rechargeable lithium-ion batteries that outperform conventional graphite electrodes, representing an environmentally friendly approach to reuse the waste.

Batteries have two electrodes, called an anode and a cathode. The anodes in most of today's lithium-ion batteries are made of graphite. Lithium ions are contained in a liquid called an electrolyte, and these ions are stored in the anode during recharging. Now, researchers at Purdue University have shown how to manufacture carbon-nanoparticle and microsheet anodes from polystyrene and starch-based packing peanuts, respectively.

"We were getting a lot of packing peanuts while setting up our new lab," recalled postdoctoral research associate Vinodkumar Etacheri. "Professor 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. Research findings indicate that the new anodes can charge faster and deliver higher "specific capacity" compared to commercially available graphite anodes, Pol said.

The new findings are being presented during the 249th American Chemical Society National Meeting & Exposition in Denver on March 22-26. The work was performed by Etacheri, Pol and undergraduate chemical engineering student Chulgi Nathan Hong.

"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. "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."

Consequently, packing peanuts often end up in landfills, where they remain intact for decades. Although the starch-based versions are more 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 resulting material is then processed into the anodes.

"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."

Commercial anode particles are about 10 times thicker than the new anodes and have higher electrical resistance, which increase charging time.

"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.

Because the sheets are thin and porous, they allow better contact with the liquid electrolyte in batteries.

"These electrodes exhibited notably higher lithium-ion storage performance compared to the commercially available graphite anodes," he said.

Packing--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. These carbonaceous electrodes are also promising for rechargeable sodium-ion batteries. 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."

Explore further: Nanoparticle network could bring fast-charging batteries

More information: Upcycling of Packing-Peanuts into Carbon Microsheet Anodes for Lithium-Ion Batteries, 249th American Chemical Society National Meeting & Exposition in Denver on March 22-26.

Environmental pollution caused by ubiquitous waste packaging materials is a serious global issue that needs to be urgently addressed. Millions of tons of plastic waste are generated worldwide every year, and it is critical to find efficient methods for their disposal and recycling. Recent studies verified that plastic containers, bags, bottles and packing peanuts constitute 31 % of the municipal waste created in the U. S. A, and only ~ 40 % of these packaging materials are recycled. Currently, only a very small fraction (~10 %) of the packing peanuts is being recycled. Due to their low density (huge containers are required for transportation), shipment to a recycler is expensive, and does not provide profit on investment. As a result, most often packing peanuts end up in landfills, where they stay intact for generations. Chemical moieties such as heavy metals, chlorides, phthalates etc. present in the packing peanuts can be easily leached into the surrounding media and deteriorate soil/water quality. 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. State of the art synthesis of carbonaceous materials often involves the use of hydrocarbon precursors such as acetylene or coal. The method described herein does not use pressurized containers, which makes them attractive for the large-scale production of carbonaceous materials for numerous applications. Anodes composed of these microsheets and nanoparticles outperformed the electrochemical properties of commercial carbon anode in Li, and Na-ion batteries. At a current density of 0.1 C, carbon microsheet, and nanoparticle anodes exhibited Li-ion storage specific capacity of 420 mAh/g, which is even superior to the theoretical capacity of graphite (372 mAh/g). Superior electrochemical properties of the carbon electrodes are attributed to their disordered nature, and porous microstructure, which allows improved solid-state and interfacial Li, and Na-ion diffusion kinetics. The synthetic method demonstrated here is inexpensive, environmentally benign, and scalable method for the synthesis of carbonaceous materials for electrochemical energy storage.

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2 / 5 (4) Mar 22, 2015
Even if this process is all that they claim it to be I really doubt that it will be economical to recycle the old peanuts. Battery manufactures will just create new ones on site. The CO2 and labor costs of collecting the old material and shipping it to battery manufacturers has to be prohibitive.

Who writes this crap?
3 / 5 (4) Mar 22, 2015
Mr 166 must be new to recycling. Does he think they will be shipped expanded?

But the real story is how we are finding new fuels and materials to replace oil and coal every day.
3 / 5 (2) Mar 22, 2015
"Mr 166 must be new to recycling. Does he think they will be shipped expanded?"

You are brighter than that gkam. Exactly who's job will it be to compress these things for shipping. God bless, I hope that this is the breakthrough that allows LI batteries to fulfill all of our power storage needs but don't play me for the fool and try to sell the idea as a recycling plan. Even a "Professor" should be able to figure out that the idea is impracticable.

It is far cheaper for the millions of people receiving the peanuts to just reuse them. Do you think that every one is going to buy a special tool to compress them and that somebody in a big truck will go door to door to collect them? I know we could all ship the compressed nuts to a central site via the post office. Finally the PO could actually run at a profit.
3 / 5 (2) Mar 22, 2015
It is Pollyanna proposals like this that put the credibility of the whole green movement in doubt. Hint to professor, don't dilute the impact of a possible breakthrough with stupid ancillary possible benefits.
2.3 / 5 (3) Mar 22, 2015
166, I'm building the peanut squeezer right now.

Yeah, you would have to be in a place where there were lots (and lots) of them to make it feasible, . . but stranger things have happened.
3 / 5 (2) Mar 22, 2015
"166, I'm building the peanut squeezer right now."

Yup, gkam it is never too late for a second career. Build it out of carbon fiber with titanium jaws and I am sure that you can sell 1000s on the internet.
3 / 5 (2) Mar 22, 2015
You know, sometimes great ideas take a little time to become magnificent. Make sure that it is powered by H2, written up in a peer reviewed paper and you could sell hundreds of thousands to government agencies.
2.3 / 5 (3) Mar 22, 2015
The point, comics aside, is this is just another nail in the coffin of petroleum fuels.
2 / 5 (4) Mar 22, 2015
Why all people in the lab at the above video are Indians (or Indonesians)? Doesn't it mean, that normal Americans (both black both white) aren't educable anymore? Or is the work in lab so underpayed that nobody else than immigrants is willing to do it?
3 / 5 (2) Mar 22, 2015
"Why all people in the lab at the above video are Indians (or Indonesians)? Doesn't it mean, that normal Americans (both black both white) aren't educable anymore? Or is the work in lab so underpayed that nobody else than immigrants is willing to do it?"

Oh wow!!!!!!!!!!! I am usually sarcastic but your question is mirroring my own thoughts.

Basically the educational system in the US has been dumbing down the population to the point that colleges are lucky if students read at the 8th grade level. After all, it is blatantly unfair to discriminate and grade by actual accomplishment.

Higher education does not care just as long as everyone takes out student loans and pays them for each useless credit.

Of course foreigners are taking over the fields that require real knowledge.

2.3 / 5 (3) Mar 22, 2015
Look at the majors the US citizens are choosing.

Political Science The ability to create effective propaganda
Journalism The ability to effectively disseminate that propaganda
Liberal Arts The ability to prove that a drawing of a can of Campbell"s soup is worth a lot of $$$$
Social Work The ability to give away other peoples money
Teaching Certificate The ability to indoctrinate the young and prove that Big Government is their only hope.
2.3 / 5 (3) Mar 22, 2015
Life without a liberal education is like life without color.
5 / 5 (2) Mar 22, 2015
In my community, serviced by AAA recycling in Northern VA, we have plastic recycling barrels. That is where I put these peanuts. My trash is about 25% plastic, so I put the plastic stuff out once a week. After that, it is recycled. Probably not into anodes, but better than the dumps.
not rated yet Mar 23, 2015
Naysayers? Really, we should never try anything new. The old ways are so much better! And those darn Indians! they're so much more advanced than us dumb Americans that we shouldn't even show our faces in public!

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