News, Science

Scientists Make Batteries From Packing Peanuts

Image: Airman 1st Class Alystria Maurer
Airman 1st Class Derek Barbour, 28th Logistics Readiness Squadron packing and crating technician, pours packing peanuts into a box during the packing of an aircraft part at Ellsworth Air Force Base. Image: Airman 1st Class Alystria Maurer

A team of researchers from Purdue University in the United States has found a way to use pesky packing peanuts to make rechargeable batteries.

When Professor Vilas Pol and his research assistants were setting up their new laboratory, they found the boxes the equipment came in were filled with hundreds of little polystyrene pieces known as packing peanuts.

Packing peanuts are a popular and effective way to protect all sorts of fragile items – from TVs to dishes – when they’re being moved, stored or delivered. Unfortunately, most packing peanuts eventually end up in landfills where they can take decades to break down. When they do break down, they contaminate the soil and water with chemicals and detergents.

Professor Pol, a chemical engineer, asked his team to help find a better way to dispose of old packing peanuts. The scientists discovered that when they heated the peanuts in a very hot furnace – between 500 and 900 degrees Celsius – they turned into a carbon-based material that could be flattened into very thin sheets.

These microsheets can be used to make anodes, a key part of rechargeable lithium-ion batteries. (The anode is where electrically charged molecules called lithium ions are stored when a battery is recharged.)

Anodes are usually made from graphite. However, anodes made from recycled packing peanuts are cheaper to make, less harmful to the environment, and work better than traditional graphite anodes.

Lithium-ion batteries are used in many electronic devices, including smartphones, laptops, cameras and even electric cars. Anodes made from packing peanuts could be ready for commercial use within two years.

By Jonathan Tilly

Writing/Discussion Prompt
Professor Pol was able to take a material with a harmful environmental impact (packing peanuts) and turn it into something positive. He and his team were able to look at a problem and discover a helpful and creative solution.

How do you practise problem solving? What is the most important part of problem solving successfully?

Reading Prompt: Reading Fluently
Reading fluently is a skill that refers to the speed and flow of reading. When reading is choppy, too fast, or too slow, it becomes difficult to understand.

Reread today’s article. How did the fluency of your reading change the second time? Does a reader’s fluency improve each time he/she re-reads an article?
Is their a limit to a reader’s fluency?

Read appropriate texts at a sufficient rate and with sufficient expression to convey the sense of the text readily to the reader and an audience (OME, Reading: 3.3).

Read appropriate texts with expression and confidence, adjusting reading strategies and reading rate to match the form and purpose (OME, Reading: 3.3).

Read appropriate texts with expression and confidence, adjusting reading strategies and reading rate to match the form and purpose (OME, Reading: 3.3).

Language Feature: Alliteration
Alliteration is a device that is often used playfully by writers in order to maintain the reader’s attention. Alliteration describes the technique where the beginning sounds of words are repeated. Today’s article includes three examples: (1) pesky packing peanuts, (2) polystyrene pieces, (3) Professor Pol).

Can you think of your own alliteration to describe packing peanuts?

______________________ packing peanuts.