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[Image above] A new low-cost chemical process turns waste glass bottles into nanosilicon anodes for better lithium-ion batteries. Credit: University of California, Riverside

With a current population of some 7.5 billion humans, it’s no wonder that our planet has a waste problem. Especially once you consider the disposable culture we live in.

The good news, however, is that a problem can also be an opportunity to engineer an improvement.

Take this recent development of edible orbs of hydration to help eliminate the incredible amount of plastic waste forever cycling around this planet.

Or this ingenious machine that both recycles glass and helps replenish the world’s dwindling supply of sand.

But the beaches aren’t the only place where our recycled glass bottles might be heading soon.

Researchers at the University of California, Riverside, have devised a technique to convert recycled glass bottles into nanosilicon anodes for next-gen lithium-ion batteries.

The researchers showed that their low-cost chemical process can create lithium-ion batteries that have the capacity to store almost four times as much energy as conventional anodes—which would allow electric cars to travel further and smartphones to power on longer in between charges.

Silicon anodes are known to have the ability to store up to 10 times the energy that graphite anodes can, but they’re also known to be rather unstable—which has limited silicon’s use in batteries so far.

According to a University of California, Riverside new release, “To create the anodes, the team used a three-step process that involved crushing and grinding the glass bottles into a fine white power, a magnesiothermic reduction to transform silicon dioxide into nanostructured silicon, and coating the silicon nanoparticles with carbon to improve their stability and energy storage properties.”

Credit: Univ. of California, Riverside; YouTube

Tests of half-cell batteries incorporating the recycled carbon-coated silicon anodes delivered a high-performance capacity of ~1420 mAh/g at a C-rate of 0.5C (which governs the battery’s charge–discharge rate) after 400 cycles.

And with this low-cost processing technique, the researchers say one glass bottle generates enough nanosilicon to produce hundreds of coin cell batteries.

“We started with a waste product that was headed for the landfill and created batteries that stored more energy, charged faster, and were more stable than commercial coin cell batteries. Hence, we have very promising candidates for next-generation lithium-ion batteries,” lead author and graduate student Changling Li says in the release.

The open-access paper, published in Scientific Reports, is “Silicon derived from glass bottles as anode materials for lithium ion full cell batteries” (DOI: 10.1038/s41598-017-01086-8).