Purdue Researchers Convert Packing Peanuts Into Fast Charging Battery Materials

In setting up a new lab, a group of research students at Purdue University were inspired to come up with a way to put the huge amount of packing peanuts they were receiving to good use. At the suggestion of Professor Vilas Pol, the researchers developed a potential new eco-friendly application for rendering the packaging waste into lithium-ion battery anodes.


Lithium-ion batteries have two electrodes, a cathode and an anode. The anode harnesses the lithium ions (which are contained in an electrolyte solution) during recharging. Today most lithium-ion battery anodes are made of graphite, however the Purdue researchers have demonstrated a means for using packing peanuts to manufacture carbon-nanoparticle anodes (from polystyrene packing peanuts) and microsheet anodes (from starch-based packing peanuts).

The new method "is a very simple, straightforward approach," Professor Pol said in phys.org. "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," postdoctoral research associate Vinodkumar Etacheri adds. "Microscopic and spectroscopic analyses proved the microstructures and morphologies responsible for superior electrochemical performances are preserved after many charge-discharge cycles."

According to Pol, research findings indicate that the new lithium-ion battery anodes can charge faster and deliver higher "specific capacity" compared to commercially available graphite anodes. The new sheets developed by the Purdue researchers are thin and porous — about 10 times thinner than their graphite cousins, which have higher electrical resistance that results in increased charging time — and as such they allow for better contact with the liquid electrolyte in batteries.

As kids so many of us were told not to trash old batters, and were fed the marvelously frightening imagery of leaking acid and potential heat-and-or-pressure-related explosion, and in fact the issue of battery disposal remains alive in many a good green discussion today. Naturally, the subject of packing peanuts disposal often turns up in the same green mouthful, thus the news that a method has been developed for converting these little ecology disruptors into key components in bigger ecology disruptors is curious indeed.