Researchers in Associate Professor Vilas Pol's laboratory
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 reusing 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
"We were getting a lot of packing peanuts while
setting up our new lab," recalled postdoctoral
Research Associate Vinodkumar Etacheri. "Professor
Pol suggested a pathway to do something useful with
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 were presented during the 249th
American Chemical Society National Meeting &
Exposition in Denver in March 2015. 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
environmentally friendly 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
By Emil Venere
New Processing Technology Converts Packing Peanuts to Battery Components
A video about Professor Pol's packing peanut
research enjoyed more than 250,000 views soon after
it was published on YouTube in March 2015. View
the video at https://engineering.purdue.edu/ChE/
View the Video