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Paper, Plastic or Lithium Ion Battery?

August 10, 2010
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Ever wonder if there was something useful – and more environmentally friendly – for all of those plastic grocery bags that accumulate in your house? Or in the landfill you send them to?

Well, there is. And it is a rather surprising option.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory has found a way to convert those pesky bags into carbon nanotubes that can be used as components in lithium ion batteries – like the kind that powers all-electric or gas/electric cars.

A team led by Vilas Pol has found that mixing the bags with a cobalt catalyst and then heating the mix to 700˚C causes carbon in the plastic to grow as nanotubes – microscopic carbon molecules – on the cobalt. The carbon nanotubes are then harvested and used as anode material in lithium ion batteries, and for the next gen lithium air batteries.

According to the DOE, Pol’s system is by far the cheapest and most environmentally friendly way to grow nanotubes, and could result in less expensive batteries while greatly reducing the amount material headed to landfills.

As Pol said, “The bags take hundreds of years to decompose.”

The DOE is looking for licensing partners for the process, and if the process can be commercialized there could be a fast growing market for that growing pile of plastic bags.