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PET University researchers use plastic to power new technology for batteries

Author / Editor: Luke James / Isabell Page

The research team uses a process known as microwave irradiation to recycle waste polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic into a low-cost, environmentally friendly battery anode material.

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The new method is intended to transform PET flakes into a useful material.
The new method is intended to transform PET flakes into a useful material.
(Source: gemeinfrei / Unsplash)

PET - a general-purpose thermoplastic polymer - is the world’s most commonly used material for single-use bottles, and the unsustainable use of these bottles has garnered much attention and media coverage over the last few years, with more and more people instead opting to use long-lasting reusable bottles instead. By making use of unwanted PET plastic bottles, this process, coupled with the pressing need to innovate within the renewable energy technologies arena, could have a significant impact on the environment as a result.

“We are helping to address the growth in the proliferation of renewable energy conversion and storage, which stems from the societal attention and increasing awareness of climate change and energy resource limitation,” said Vilas Pol, a Purdue associate professor of chemical engineering 

The Purdue researchers published the details of their work in the American Chemical Society’s journal Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering on March 15.

Turning PET flakes into a useful material

Using an ultrafast microwave irradiation process, the Purdue research team is able to turn PET flakes into florets of disodium terephthalate - a low-cost sustainable, and recyclable end-product which can be used as an anode material in batteries. The Purdue team, in collaboration with the Indian Institute of Technology and Tufts University, also tried to use this approach for lithium-ion and sodium-ion battery cells.

Florets of disodium terephthalate.
Florets of disodium terephthalate.
(Source: Purdue University)

Pol said that whilst lithium-ion technology is currently dominating both the consumer portable electronics and electric vehicles markets, sodium-ion battery research has come a long way and is currently attracting attention due to its low cost and better electrochemical performance in the power grid.

“The applicability of the microwave technique on organic reactions has gained attention in recent times due to its advantage of the rapid reaction process,” Pol said. “We have accomplished the complete conversion of PET to disodium terephthalate within 120 seconds, in a typical household microwave setup.”

The Purdue study did not address the scalability of the process or how the price of disodium terephthalate compares with graphite, the most commonly used anode material in lithium-ion batteries.

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