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Waste Plastic to Carbon Nanotubes

Wed, 04/21/2010 - 1:23pm
svilpol

Plastic bags from the grocery store could soon help power your cell phone. A suburban company is developing new technology that's giving new life for the bags that usually ended up in a landfill. Plastic bags can take hundreds of years to decompose in a landfill and they are among the most challenging items for recyclers to manage. But new technology could turn those inexpensive bags into a commodity that's highly valuable -- and green.

"Those are the carbon nanotubes which are working for this battery," said Vilas Ganpat Pol, a chemist at Argonne National Laboratory. This product could change the price of a number of your favorite gadgets.

For the last couple of years, he's been trying to find a good use for those menacing plastic bags. After much trial and error, the 35-year-old thinks he finally hit the jackpot.

Pol cuts up a plastic bag, stuffs it in a reactor, adds a cobalt metal catalyst and then heats it all up to 700 degrees Celsius. After a three-hour cool down, he gets carbon nanotubes. It looks like a simple black powder, but it may as well be gold.

The substance can be used in lithium-ion batteries -- like the ones in your cell phone. It helps make them rechargeable. Pol's findings are significant because making these products conventionally -- from petroleum -- costs about a hundred dollars a gram. Pol's process could change the game.

"Cost wise they are very cheap, because I just turned them from the plastic," said Pol. Argonne National laboratory said there are endless applications for this technology including use in electronics, for water purification -- even in cars, for cooling down rubber in tire treads. Argonne is now entertaining potential companies for a licensing agreement. (Copyright ©2010 WLS-TV/DT.)

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