Recycling Innovation: Batteries to Solar Power at MIT

by Peter Doyle

Many years ago, too many to remember, I was a research chemist and technical supervisor. In those day, considerable efforts were made by fellow chemists to find uses for used car tires and batteries.  There were serious issues faced with what to do with them. For the longest time, the only thing to be done with used tires was to store them in out of the way places, where occasionally they caught fire and created a toxic mess.

Over the years since, creative individuals have founds uses for them. Many park benches are made from recycled tires, as well as garden irrigation hoses  and other consumer items.  Lead batteries present a bigger problem.  Lead is not very reactive which is why it is used to line caustic containers.  It is also very toxic.  Compounds containing lead were removed from paint, as they led to poisoning. In the body, Lead replaces Calcium in the bones, then later in life as the bones degenerate it enters the blood system and creates madness or other neurological conditions.

In recent decades, Lead batteries have been gradually replaced by Lithium-ion batteries. Formerly, those old batteries were serviced and made back into new batteries.  With their demise the problem arises – what to do with 200 million tons of lead batteries.

MIT has created a brilliant solution.  Turn the lead into a compound know as Perovskite, a compound that can be used for decades in solar cells. According to a recent MIT paper the conversion of solar energy to power is 19%, close to the conversion rate for silicon-based solar cells. The lead from just one battery could power 30 homes.

Here is a news release from MIT that explains the story.

As a former chemist, I am in awe of their achievement, but also very encourage for the future. This is the third recycling story I have read or been told about in the last couple of years.  I met with a scientist a couple years ago who had developed a method of extracting methane, a very dangerous climate change gas, from landfills, turning it into ethylene from which other hydrocarbons can be made. He was building a pilot plant down in Florida.

One does not necessarily have to have a degree in Chemistry to come up with recycling innovations.  A Japanese business man enraged by all the plastic bags he saw being thrown away in Japan came up with a machine to turn them into kerosene. He sees his main market in Africa. His machine as a way to solve a serious disposal problem and at the same time provide energy for an impoverished people. Here is his video.

For anyone thinking about a career where they can make a positive difference, contribute something to benefit human kind, they may want to consider finding solutions for the unanswered and sometimes hidden problems of past.  What could be more rewarding than helping to save our planet and improving people lives.

image credit:  MIT, Christine Danilof

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Peter DoylePeter Doyle is an award winning media marketing, news and documentary producer using rich media to accelerate innovation and commercialization. Check me out at http://www.linkedin.com/in/peterjdoyle

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