Turning packing peanuts* to power (Day 329)

Chemical engineers don’t like waste. We are always looking for ways to use and reuse items that would otherwise be discarded (see my blog ‘Ionic fluids pack a punch for biofuels‘).

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.

idea batterySo, 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.

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Tiny carbon spheres reduce engine wear and tear (Day 288)

The reduction of friction and pumping losses in engines is important. Otherwise, the engine has to work that extra bit harder – up to 20 per cent of the total power produced can be wasted.

Photo credit | Purdue University This image taken with an electron microscope shows tiny carbon spheres added to motor oil

Photo credit | Purdue University
Image taken with an electron microscope shows tiny carbon spheres added to motor oil

Researchers from Purdue University, Indiana, US have addressed the problem by adding tiny, and perfectly smooth, carbon spheres to motor oil. This can reduce friction and engine wear by up to 25 per cent.

This offers major benefits in reducing friction and thus improved fuel economy.

Motor oil containing three per cent of the tiny spheres by weight, each measuring between 100-500 nanometres in diameter, delivered a reduction in friction between 10 and 25 per cent.

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