Use Packing Peanuts to Charge Gadgets?

Researchers developed a way to recycle discarded packing peanuts into components for rechargeable batteries.


Warning: New battery technology may contain nuts.

Researchers at Indiana’s Purdue University have developed a way to recycle discarded packing peanuts into components for rechargeable batteries.

During Sunday’s 249th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS), the scientists unwrapped their work, showing off unique tech that could outperform on-the-market batteries.

The lightweight polystyrene and starch-based packing materials are perfect for transporting fragile cargo. But only about 10 percent of the U.S. supply of squishable stuffing is recycled, leaving the rest to rot in landfills and pollute the environment.

“Outside in a landfill, potentially harmful substances in the peanuts, such as heavy metals, chlorides and phthalates, can easily leach into the environment and deteriorate soil and water quality,” Vilas Pol, the project’s lead scientist, said in a statement.

Instead, the Purdue team is transforming the fluffy foam into high-tech carbon microsheets (pictured) and nanoparticles for use in rechargeable batteries, using a new process Pol and his team developed.

“I look at the packing peanuts and thought that while we are exploring ‘green’ technologies, we should not be harming the environment by throwing them away,” Pol said.

Baked at around 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit, Pol’s materials have about a 15 percent higher electrical storage capacity than those microsheets made at higher temperatures—nearly 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

Tested as anodes in rechargeable lithium ion batteries, the modified peanuts work better than some of the commercial tech, which typically uses graphite materials.

The microsheets and nanoparticles, according to Vinodkumar Etacheri of Purdue University, “both have disordered crystal structure [that] lets them store more lithium ions than the theoretical limit, and their porous microstructure lets the lithium ions quickly diffuse into the microsheets and creates more surface area for electrochemical interactions.”

Pol’s new scalable process means the Purdue team’s packing peanut power supply could be ready for commercial use within two years.