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In the future, smartphone batteries could last longer and recharge faster, all thanks to peanuts

Peanuts could help provide energy to power a smartphone more efficiently in the future. We’re not talking about the salted or dry roasted kind, but rather, packing peanuts. Researchers at Purdue University have come up with an ingenious way to utilize those billions of wasted polystyrene packing peanuts, that usually get discarded once we’ve extracted whatever it is they were protecting inside a box.

By blasting the peanuts in a furnace at up to 900 degrees Celsius, the polystyrene and starch-based material breaks down, and is fashioned into micro-thin sheets of carbon, which can replace the graphite anode used in modern lithium-ion batteries. This results in batteries that can store more energy, and be recharged faster than existing graphite anode cells.

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While we’re all interested in higher performance batteries for our gadgets, this ingenious method is also environmentally friendly. Professor Vilas Pol, who works on the project at Purdue, said the packing peanuts can take up to one hundred years to break down, and that just 10 percent of them are recycled at the moment. The problem is, recycling them is usually an expensive and difficult process, so most end up in landfills.

He says turning them into carbon electrodes is “simple and straightforward,” cost effective, and considerably more environmentally friendly, plus the process could easily be adopted by large manufacturing companies. In five years, up to 50 percent of the discarded packing peanuts could be repurposed and used to make our smartphones, tablets, and other gadgets last longer between charges. Apparently, the idea came when the team was setting up a new lab, and equipment arrived stored in thousands of the packing peanuts.

The system is still in the early stages of development, and will be presented at the American Chemical Society National Meeting and Exposition, scheduled to take place in Denver this week.