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PSU scientists invent batteries made from biowaste

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), as rechargeable lithium-ion (Li-on) and lithium-polymer (Li-poly) batteries have become dominant in consumer electronic products there has been a lack of uniform regulatory policy on their disposal. NCBI says this means lithium batteries may contribute “substantially to environmental pollution and adverse human health impacts due to potentially toxic materials.” 

In order to make batteries eco-friendlier, scientists at Pittsburg State University’s Kansas Polymer Research Center have invented a new kind of battery made from biowaste, more specifically from soybeans. These batteries will be better for the environment.  

“We know that environmental pollution is a big concern these days and we want to do something not only for the science community but also for the society and the environment,” said Ram Gupta, associate professor of chemistry and chief researcher for the project. “We thought that using a bio waste for some value-added application would be a nice idea and we have been working on energy related materials for many years and this is a new development in our lab which utilizes soybeans for rechargeable batteries.”  

According to Gupta, soybeans were an obvious choice when considering what biowaste to use, as the crop is plentiful in the area. This allows local soybeans to be used in the research. 

“We are in the state where lots of people use soybeans and soybeans are also used in Missouri, so the idea was… ‘can we use something from our backyard to make something useful’ and we thought that we can do some chemical processes using the biowaste which is generated in soybeans crops and convert them into a material which can be used for making batteries,” Gupta said. 

The project has been ongoing for three years, with funding acquired for the next year as well. Additionally, the technology is pending a patent, which Gupta says is very exciting. 

“We really feel proud and fortunate to work at Pittsburg State University,” Gupta said. “Our administrator and staff are so supportive, and we cannot have had such success without the support from the administrators and the supporting staff at Pittsburg city. This is a really proud moment for us that this research is coming so good…”  

The research is being conducted with the assistance of both undergraduate and graduate students in the field of polymer chemistry, which allows the students important experience in the field. 

“It feels great to be part of this, we’re transforming things for the real-world industry,” said Felipe DeSouza, graduate student in polymer chemistry, who is involved with the research. “We can turn something that has no value into value … at the same time we’re providing other alternatives for the future so we’re not only going to rely on oil, we’ll have other stuff that will be useful. So, it feels pretty great, it’s a lifetime experience that is really interesting to be part of that.”  

Bobby Winters, associate dean of the PSU College of Arts and Sciences, said the experience for students to be involved in the research is a good opportunity. 

“…he (Gupta) works with both graduate students and undergraduate students in his research,” Winters said. “He meets the students where they’re at. He figures out what they need to start learning and he brings them in to this process of discovery and invention.” 

Batteries made from biowaste will have various advantages, not only for the environment but also for the people involved in the production of batteries. Soybean waste batteries will also be beneficial for soybean farmers, who according to Gupta, will “find a value-added application of bio waste which is generated in their crops and I think they will be much beneficial when this technology gets approved or commercialized.” 

“The first advantage is we are using biowaste materials, not facto chemicals for making batteries,” Gupta said. “The second thing is that we’re not using any toxic chemicals in preparing these batteries, so it’s not only eco-friendly but it’s much safer also in operations.” 

J. Choi, graduate student in polymer chemistry, also works with Gupta and feels excited to be involved in a project that will have a positive impact on the environment. 

“We’re living in the midst of limited resources and environmental pollution… so if we use the non-toxic materials and we develop a high-performance battery then it’s really important for the environment,” Choi said. 

Winters said the invention speaks highly of PSU and those that work at the university. 

“We’re very fortunate to have scientists of the caliber that we do who are able to invent new things that create new markets for our products and who are also able as teachers to teach our students how to do such things,” Winters said. 

Gupta’s ultimate goal is for the batteries to be commercialized and used in larger batteries. 

“…once the patent is approved, we will have to look for a commercial partner who can help us to produce a bigger batteries which can be used in many devices such as cellphones, laptops, or even cars,” Gupta said. “Our ultimate goal is to use these batteries in automobile, so electric vehicles.”  

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