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How PET plastic is being turned into a nanomaterial for supercapacitors

bunch of water bottles

UC Riverside engineers have developed a way to recycle PET plastic waste, such as soda or water bottles, into a nanomaterial useful for energy storage.

Mihri and Cengiz Ozkan and their students have been working for years on creating improved energy storage materials from sustainable sources, such as glass bottles, beach sand, Silly Putty, and portabella mushrooms. Their latest success could reduce plastic pollution and hasten the transition to 100% clean energy.

Though they don't store as much energy as lithium-ion batteries, supercapacitors made from the recycled plastic material can charge much faster, making batteries based on plastic waste a good option for many applications.

"Thirty percent of the global car fleet is expected to be electric by 2040, and high cost of raw battery materials is a challenge," said Mihri Ozkan, a professor of electrical engineering in UCR's Marlan and Rosemary Bourns College of Engineering. "Using waste from landfill and upcycling plastic bottles could lower the total cost of batteries while making the battery production sustainable on top of eliminating plastic pollution worldwide."

In an open-access article published in Energy Storage, the researchers describe a sustainable, straightforward process for upcycling polyethylene terephthalate plastic waste, or PET, found in soda bottles and many other consumer products, into a porous carbon nanostructure. 

When tested in the supercapacitor, the material contained the characteristics of both a double-layer capacitor formed by the arrangement of separated ionic and electronic charges, as well as redox reaction pseudo-capacitance that occurs when the ions are electrochemically absorbed onto surfaces of materials.

By "doping" the electrospun fibers prior to carbonization with various chemicals and minerals such as boron, nitrogen, and phosphorous, the team plans to tune the final material to have improved electrical properties. 

Learn more about it here (https://news.ucr.edu/articles/2020/08/11/upcycling-plastic-waste-toward-sustainable-energy-storage)

Download the original research article here (https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/est2.201).

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