Nuts and volts: team develops way of converting packing peanuts into batteries

23 Mar 2015

An inventive team of scientists say they have found a way of turning packing material – known as packing peanuts – from a waste product into components for an ultra-efficient rechargeable battery.

The team that has developed this new method of storing energy in carbon sheets made from packing peanuts had its ‘nutty’ revelation after the scientists recognised the amount of waste that was created by the packaging sent with lab equipment. Much of the packing peanuts were thrown in the trash only to be dumped in landfills.

One of the researchers on the team, Vinodkumar Etacheri, said only 10pc of this waste packing, largely made of Styrofoam and starch, is actually recycled. When placed in a landfill, it takes nearly 100 years for it to degrade.

This is down to purely economic reasoning, as it is considered not to be ‘cost effective’ for waste management companies to recycle them.

Now however, the team has found that by melting the material into thin micro-sheets, it could play a significant part in the development of lithium-ion batteries that would be much more efficient than current technology, particularly the use of graphite.

Etacheri said they have been able to achieve a much higher level of efficiency due to the micro-sheets’ disorganised, crystallised structure, which gives them a better ability to store more lithium ions, while being porous enough for it to quickly diffuse from it.

The process of its creation is even considered more environmentally friendly than similar micro-sheet technology, as the packing peanuts melt at a temperature of 537°C compared with current temperatures of 2,204°C.

Unlike many other scientific breakthroughs, the team believes the technology involved is all within sight of near-future implementation, with expectations of being ready for commercial use within the next two years.

Packing peanuts image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic