Tires have been a source of much scrutiny when it comes to their disposal. While their existence is a necessary one for safe driving, their waste product can be an ugly blemish in terms of protecting our environment. The way old tires are disposed of is so important that the EPA has an entire section of their website dedicated to scrap tires. The reuse and recycling of scrap tires has initiated the rise of several new businesses that use these materials to create innovative new products. From playground mulch and highway sound barriers to firewood buckets, sneakers and sandals, old tires have found their way to replace other rubber materials in everyday use.
Now, Oak Ridge National Laboratory – innovator in supercomputing, energy creation, weather modeling and more – is imagining a different use for scrap tires: as a power source, of course.
ORNL’s team, led by Parans Paranthaman and Amit Naskar, is using a proprietary pre-treatment to create a new lithium-ion anode from old tires. A broken-down substance called carbon black, which comes from the tires, serves as a man-made replacement for the graphite that is more commonly used to build the anodes that are part of an electric vehicle’s battery. And the carbon black seems to perform even better than the graphite (a natural, mineral form of carbon).
Our Eco Pulse 2014 study shows that recycling is the second highest ranked environmental activity consumers think companies should be doing, and this new technique is another great way to demonstrate how recycling takes on many interesting forms. It’s also a great example of recognizing that green can always be greener.
That is to say, consumers are getting more savvy to the fact that not all products labeled as “green” are necessarily much more environmentally friendly than their counterparts, and they appreciate the efforts made to remedy this. And when you take into consideration that most used lithium-ion batteries from vehicles get recycled for use as back-up energy storage for healthcare and telecommunications industries … you are now recycling a recycled product, and that’s something consumers can feel good about.
This new technique would also be a less expensive way to make anodes for lithium-ion batteries, and that would help reduce costs for EVs – and increase their sales and use. And, if this truly improves performance, it could further help expand the EV/hybrid market to those who are on the fence … demographics who may or may not be concerned about emissions, but who need a reliable and cost-efficient vehicle, or who seek freedom from unpredictable gas prices. Price and performance are strong reasons to believe in a vehicle.
It’s comforting to know that our neighbors at ORNL have taken the demands for more sustainable battery production to heart, and are making strides toward cleaner energy production – from dirty chunks of rubber. It’s exactly the kind of innovation that moves the sustainability market forward.