Researchers tout technology to make electronics out of old tires

With some 300,000 tires tossed out per year, new applications for their disposal are a key environmental challenge


Researchers are working with a process that turns old tires – and there are some 300,000 tossed yearly – into electrodes for supercapacitors that would be used on the grid or in cars and other electronics applications.

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The technology developed at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Drexel University produces carbon composite papers through a process described like this: “the researchers soaked crumbs of irregularly shaped tire rubber in concentrated sulfuric acid. They then washed the rubber and put it into a tubular furnace under a flowing nitrogen gas atmosphere. They gradually increased the temperature from 400 degrees Celsius to 1,100 degrees. After several additional steps, including mixing the material with potassium hydroxide and additional baking and washing with deionized water and oven drying, researchers have a material they could mix with polyaniline, an electrically conductive polymer, until they have a finished product.”

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By employing proprietary pretreatment and processing, the researchers say they created flexible polymer carbon composite films that can be used as electrodes for supercapacitors.

“These devices are useful in applications for cars, buses and forklifts that require rapid charge and discharge cycles with high power and high energy density. Supercapacitors with this technology in electrodes saw just a 2% drop after 10,000 charge/discharge cycles,” the researchers stated.

The technology, described in a paper published in ChemSusChem by Wiley-VCH, follows an ORNL discovery of a method to use scrap tires for batteries. Together, these approaches could provide some relief to the problems associated with the 1.5 billion tires manufacturers expect to produce annually by 2035.

“Tires will eventually need to be discarded, and our supercapacitor applications can consume several tons of this waste,” said research team leader Parans Paranthaman in a statement. “Combined with the technology we’ve licensed to two companies to convert scrap tires into carbon powders for batteries, we estimate consuming about 50 tons per day.”

Finding a unique use for old tires would go a long way toward reducing the impact of one of the world’s biggest environmental challenges.   “Discarded tires pose serious environmental and health issues such as: 1) piles of the waste tires generate vermin and insect infestation, posing severe health issue; 2) piles of waste tires may catch fire, resulting in a fire that is hard to extinguish and that generates hazardous gases, heavy metals, and oil that severely contaminate the soil, environment, and groundwater; and 3) waste tires require large landfills and an increasing number of discarded tires may lead to landfill maintenance issues,” the researchers stated.

A paper, “Waste Tire Derived Carbon–Polymer Composite Paper as Pseudocapacitive Electrode with Long Cycle Life,” is available here if you want more details.

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