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Electricity from plastic: Breakthrough technology from US scientists


With more than 87 percent of the 100 billion plastic bags discarded in US finding its way into landfills, recycling these bags ought to be the top priority. And the scientists at the Argonne National Laboratory (a government laboratory), Illinois, seem to have struck upon an expensive yet elegant solution – converting plastic bags into batteries!

Innovation at its best

As Vilas Pol, lead scientist at the labs, explains, the plastic bags are subjected to a high-temperature process. They are stuffed into a metal tube with a special catalyst and then heated up to 700 degrees Celsius. Within 3 hours the result is a fine black powder which is pure carbon. This powder is priced at something like $150 a gram – costlier than gold! The specialty of the process is that it can be done with a mix of different kinds of plastic – something that has not been achieved till now.

Technology has been developed to transform this fine carbon powder into batteries which could be used in day-to-day life. Research does not stop there though. Making the technology viable for mass scale use includes lowering the cost price. And so, today, the scientists at Argonne are working hard to pack as much power into these batteries and also increase their longevity. A standard watch battery or car battery has a life of about 2-5 years. The idea is to increase this life to 10-15 years.


The US government seems pretty bent on achieving success in 100 percent recycling of plastic and has already dedicated $150 million for the same.


This dream, when achieved, would be a tremendous breakthrough for green technology with plastic bags being recycled into batteries that can power anything – from wrist watches and cellphones to lights and even cars!