This year, 5 trillion plastic bags will be consumed. That works out to about 160,000 every second and more than 700 a year for every person on the planet. Of the 5 trillion, less than one percent will be recycled.
Now, researchers from Purdue University and the University of Technology (UTEQ) in Mexico have found a new way to upcycle plastic bags into carbon chips that could be used as anodes for lithium-ion batteries. According to the researchers, the batteries are comparable to commercially available batteries. In one example, they used the batteries to power a toy truck.
Researchers have tried to turn polyethylene into pure carbon in the past, but those processes were inefficient and expensive.
The team first immersed the bags in sulfuric acid and then sealed them inside a solvothermal reactor that heated them below polyethylene’s melting temp. After a few additional processes in the furnace, they were able to produce pure carbon, which they ground into a black powder, which was used to make the anodes for lithium-ion batteries.
According to the researchers, the "solvothermal upcycling approach totally gets rid of plastic waste, converting them into functional carbonaceous materials for multiple applications including battery anodes." The research has been published in ACS Omega.
No word on how many bags it takes to make a battery, but really any dent could make a positive impact on the global impact of plastic bags.