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Singapore scientists make battery parts from waste paper

Experts from Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, earlier this week, found a method to convert waste paper into an important part of lithium-ion batteries. Results of their research promises sustainable and green material for batteries.


A report published on Wednesday by Science Daily says, the researchers have developed a method to “convert waste paper into a part of lithium-ion batteries from single-use packaging, bags, and cardboard boxes”.


Through carbonisation the researchers converted paper into pure carbon. They turned the paper's fibres into electrodes. They made these into rechargeable batteries that power mobile phones, medical equipment, and electric cars, the report says.


The Singaporean team carbonised paper by exposing it to high temperature. This reduced the paper to pure carbon, water vapour and oils. All three by-products are biofuels. The team achieved carbonisation without oxygen. This method emits negligible carbon dioxide. This method is green alternative to dispose kraft paper. Usually, people burn it. This produces greenhouse gases.


The team made superior and durable carbon anodes with flexibility and electrochemical properties. The team could charge and discharge the anodes up to 1,200 times, tests showed.


This makes their anodes twice more durable than those used in phone batteries now. Batteries using the university team’s anodes could withstand more physical stress, absorbing crushing energy up to five times better compared with batteries currently in use.


Research engineer from NTU's School of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering and co-author of the study, Lim Guo Yao says, “Our anodes display a combination of strengths such as durability, shock absorption, electrical conductivity, not found in current materials. These properties show our kraft paper-based anodes are a scalable alternative to current carbon materials. They would find economic value in high-end multi-functional applications, such as the nascent field of batteries.”


Currently, lithium batteries rely on internal carbon electrodes that gradually crack and crumble after physical shocks. This is one of the main reasons a battery’s life gets shorter with time.


The team’s method uses less energy and heavy metals compared to current methods of making battery anodes. The production cost of the anode is worth 10 to 15 per cent of the total cost of a lithium-ion battery. The cost of making batteries will drop significantly since the team uses low-cost waste paper.


Using waster paper to make battery anodes cuts out the use of conventional sources of carbon such as carbonaceous fillers and carbon-yielding binders. Users procure fillers and binders through mining and processed by chemicals and machines. This is not environment friendly.


Singapore will benefit from the researchers’ work. Paper waste such as disposed paper bags cardboard, newspaper, and other paper packaging, account for nearly a fifth of the country’s waste.


Kraft paper bags comprise most of Singapore's paper waste. They have a huge impact on the environment compared to their counterparts made of cotton and plastic.


The innovative research presents an opportunity to upcycle waste products and reduce human dependence on fossil fuels.


Speeding up the transition towards a circular economy, green materials, and clean energy, reflects NTU's commitment to mitigate our impact on the environment. This is one of four humanity's grand challenges the University seeks to address through its NTU 2025 Strategic Plan.


NTU's School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Assistant Professor Lai Changquan led this project. Disposing paper through incineration produces high carbon emission, he said. “Our method gives kraft paper another lease of life by funnelling it into the growing need for smartphones and electric cars. Our method cuts down carbon emissions and eases the reliance on mining and heavy industrial methods.”


The research team has filed for a patent with NTUitive, NTU's innovation and enterprise company. The team plans to commercialise their invention.


[Sudeep Sonawane, an India-based journalist, has worked in five countries in the Middle East and Asia. Email: [sudeep.sonawane@gmail.com]


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