Purdue University researchers stumbled upon an even better electrode material than currently used in the lithium-ion battery, made even better because it involved recycled packing peanuts.
If you’ve ever shopped online, especially for something delicate, you’ve probably received an oversized box, your item, and a bunch of starch-based or polystyrene-based packing peanuts. Now, because I used to regularly ship and receive stuff online, I always managed to reuse them, but most people are left holding the bag, so to speak, and have no idea what to do with them. Unfortunately, barely 10% of packing peanuts are ever recycled, the rest finding their way into landfills where, the polystyrene-based versions anyway, could take centuries to decompose, if at all.
Researchers at Purdue University, unpacking equipment for a new lab, thought to themselves, “there has to be some way we can use these things,” after which they promptly set them on fire. No, not really, but they did burn them, in a manner of speaking, reducing them to thin sheets of carbon-heavy material, which can be used as electrodes in lithium-ion batteries.
Interestingly, the carbon that resulted from their experimentation formed into carbon-microsheets, which have a larger surface area than the current carbon-nanoparticle electrodes already employed in lithium-ion battery manufacture. The end result is that, by utilizing some recycled packing peanuts, which would have gone to waste anyway, researchers stumbled on an even better electrode. Considering that over 17 million tons of polystyrene is produced every year, there’s a ready supply of the stuff, and researchers say that the process can be scaled practically without limit.