In this blog series, which is part of our Sustainability Hub, we’re speaking to chemical engineers across the world making a difference to make sustainable practices and products a reality and more accessible to all for the wider benefit of our society and globe.
Here, Sam Haig explains his role in the recycling and recreation of lithium-ion batteries, and why it’s important to improve the process of utilising the materials within them to ensure once a battery reaches the end of its life there is not significant waste harming the environment. He talks about the challenges of these hazardous materials within batteries and handling production in a sustainable way, while demand is ever-increasing.
The test, published in the Lab on a Chip Journal, is an inexpensive microfluidic strip – comprising of tiny test tubes about the size of a human hair – capable of identifying bacteria found in urine samples and checking if they are resistant to common antibiotics. The team say that ‘Lab-on-a-Stick’ is easy to use and cheap to make, and the transparent microcapillary film is suitable for naked eye detection or measurement with portable, inexpensive equipment such as a smartphone camera.
At a first glance, some products only have one function. For example, the loose-fill packing peanuts that make shipping fragile items easier.
Packing peanuts normally end up in landfill sites where they remain intact for decades and as they’re difficult to breakdown, only around 10 per cent are recycled in the US.
So, researchers from Purdue University, US, did some clever thinking and found a way to convert packing peanuts into carbon electrodes that can outperform the conventional graphite electrodes found in lithium ion batteries.
It all started when Professor Vilas Pol, an associate professor of chemical engineering, and his postdoctoral researcher, Vinodkumar Etacheri, were unpacking boxes filled with instruments for Vilas’ new lab. After emptying the boxes, they had great new lab full of instruments and a surplus of packing peanuts.
But the use of lithium batteries hasn’t been without some issues. For example, in 2013 Boeing was forced to ground its entire 787 Dreamliner fleet after problems were detected with the lithium ion batteries in the plane’s electrical system. The batteries reportedly burst into flames under some conditions – not a good state of affairs at 43,000 feet!
Most of us, at some point in our lives, have been in the situation where our phone batteries have run out of power at the most inconvenient time. And waiting for it to recharge takes longer than expected; it can be one of the most frustrating things in modern day life.
One of the major considerations when making, and buying, modern consumer products is battery life. Cheaper products generally have short battery lives. You’ll pay considerably more for better performance, but even high specification smartphones barely last more than half a day according to a recent test.