Ah, packing peanuts. You can’t open a box up without them going everywhere. I feel like one of those clumsy people in infomercials.

Now, a group of researchers from Purdue University have devised a way to convert used packing peanuts into battery components. Specifically, high-performance carbon electrodes for rechargeable lithium-ion batteries.

And, they are good. They outperform conventional graphite electrodes and has the added benefit of helping the environment.

First, a bit of background on batteries.

Batteries have two electrodes, a cathode and an anode. Anodes are generally made of graphite. Lithium ions sit in a liquid known as an electrolyte. These same ions are stored in the anode when it’s charging. Researchers from Purdue have come up with a way to make microsheet anodes from packing peanuts.

“We were getting a lot of packing peanuts while setting up our new lab,” said postdoctoral research associate Vinodkumar Etacheri. “Professor Vilas Pol suggested a pathway to do something useful with these peanuts.”

According to Pol, these new anodes can charge faster and deliver higher “specific capacity” than the typical graphite anode.

Plus, it’s better for the environment. Packing peanuts often find their way to landfills. Only about 10% are ever recycled according to Pol.

The new process is “inexpensive, environmentally benign and potentially practical for large-scale manufacturing,” said Etacheri.

How It Works

It’s not as hard as you would think. Pol says the packing peanuts are placed in a furnace and heated to between 500 and 900 degrees celsius (932 and 1,652 degrees fahrenheit). Pol describes it as “a very simple, straightforward approach.”

The packing peanut carbon anodes have a maximum specific capacity of 420 mAh/g (milliamp hours per gram). That beats the theoretical capacity of graphite, which is 372 mAh/g, according to Etacheri.

Their process also showed remarkable stability. “We cycled it 300 times without significant capacity loss.” The researchers plan to continue their work and increase performance of the anodes.

Image credit: Packing Peanut Prank video

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