PSE Success Story:
Turning Plastic Bags into Nanotubes for Batteries
Plastic bags have taken over the grocery market
since they were first introduced more than
30 years ago. Billions of them are used around
the world each year. The bags are recyclable,
but a majority of them still end up in landfills.
Plastic grocery bags are made of polyethylene,
which is non-biodegradable and made from
nonrenewable resources (crude oil and natural
gas). They can take hundreds of years to
decompose in landfills and are one of the
most challenging items for the recycling
industry to manage.
Left: Chemist Vilas Pol places a plastic bag into a specially designed reactor in the presence of a cobalt acetate catalyst to start the process. Right: The resulting carbon nanotubes can be used as the anode material in lithium-ion batteries.
Argonne scientists have discovered a way to
convert plastic bags into carbon nanotubes,
a substance that can be used as anode material
in advanced batteries such as lithium-ion and
eventually lithium-air batteries.
The groundbreaking process involves heating the plastic
material in a reactor with a cobalt catalyst to 700° C and then
allowing it cool. Researchers found that the chemical bonds
within the plastic completely broke down, causing the carbon
in the plastic to grow as nanotubes on the cobalt particles.
The Argonne-developed technology is one of the cheapest
and most environmentally friendly ways to grow nanotubes
yet to be discovered. It could potentially result in lessexpensive
batteries, while lessening the amount of waste
going into landfills. This process, which can also be used for
other types of plastics, is now available for licensing
to potential industry partners.
“We have used the as-prepared cobalt-encapsulated carbon nanotubes as an anode
material for lithium-ion batteries and they work fantastically,” said Vilas Pol, Argonne
Scholar, Argonne National Laboratory. “The specific capacity of these carbon nanotubes is
higher than commercial nanotubes.”
- Turning Plastic Bags into Nanotubes for Batteries (846 kB PDF)