Old Plastic Bags Could Soon Power Your Smartphone

A new procedure was discovered that converts plastic into carbon chips for batteries.

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Instead of ending up in a landfill or being dumped into our oceans, plastic bags may soon be used to power our smartphones and other electronic devices.

Researchers at Purdue University in Indiana have developed a process that converts plastic into the carbon chips that are found in lithium batteries.

This is really important because around 300 million tons of plastic are produced annually, 85 percent of which are not recycled. The researchers decided that a way to fix this would be to pioneer a way to upcycle plastic bags.

Scientists have known for a while that the polyethylene found in plastic bags could be turned into energy-storing carbon, but according to the study's abstract that was recently published in The American Chemical Society, previous methods that were tried to convert polyethylene into carbon were complex and expensive.

Dr. Vilas Pol, a chemical engineer at Purdue University, and his team solved this problem with a simple and low-cost method. The researchers soaked the plastic bags in sulfuric acid and heated them in a reactor to just below the plastic’s melting temperature of 150 degrees Celsius.

“This treatment caused sulphonic acid groups to be added so the plastic could be heated to a much higher temperature without vaporizing into hazardous gases,” Pol said in the abstract. When they removed the substance from the reactor and heated it in a furnace, it became pure carbon. In the last step, the carbon was ground into a black powder and used to make lithium battery anodes.

The end result was a battery used to power a toy truck; a full-sized electric one may not be too far behind.

This novel upcycling approach totally gets rid of low- and high-density waste plastic bags by converting them into functional carbonaceous materials, Pol said.

Converting trash to usable treasures like lithium batteries is part of a growing global effort to solve the plastic problem.

Recycling, ingenious upcycling and reducing single-use plastics will help save the planet.

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