Shopping Mall Going Solar


The Stockland Wendouree Shopping Centre in Victoria, Australia is using solar-concentrating thermal technology as the sole source of power for their air-conditioning system. Given that a lot of the power consumed by shopping malls, and other such large commercial structures is down to heating and cooling, this is quite a beneficial and sustainable move, and one that more business owners should consider. After all, there is only so much that individuals can do when it comes to assuring a more sustainable future.

The system used by the mall is a prototype and was developed by the CSIRO. It is also partially funded by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) program, which was established in an effort to increase the supply and competitiveness of renewable energy in the country. The newly developed system is basically a “closed-loop” air-conditioner in the sense that it cools and heats the air inside the building without letting in any outside air. It also features two “desiccant” (drying) wheels that function as dehumidifiers and remove the excess moisture from the air. These wheels operate at different temperatures, with the high-temperature wheel using the harvested solar energy for regeneration, while the low temperature wheel does not require any external heat to operate.


Trough collectors are used to capture solar heat of around 302 to 392° F (150 to 200° C), which is then stored in a 528 gallon (2,000-liter) thermal oil tank. Though a heat cascading design, this heat is then used to heat the air in the center in the winter, and also to power an indirect evaporative cooler to keep the interior cool in the summer. The system is also very compact, and the entire solar air-conditioning unit is about 40 percent smaller than a standard single-stage desiccant system.


CSIRO will spend the next 12 months monitoring and assessing the prototype to see how well it functions in a commercial environment. They are, however, confident that such a system will prove successful in reducing the electric power requirements and costs related to supplying humidity in large commercial spaces. The entire system cost just under 1.3 million USD to create and install.

Packing Peanuts Could be Recycled Into More Sustainable Batteries


Building better and more sustainable batteries is certainly one of the goals for the future. And now, those packing peanuts used to protect fragile things from breaking during transport could play a major role in achieving this goal. A team of researchers at Perdue University has discovered that these packing peanuts could actually be used in lithium-ion batteries.

The way this would be achieved would be by replacing the graphite anodes in a lithium battery by a new type of anode made of carbon. In currently used batteries, the charging process stores the lithium ions in graphite anodes. But the researchers at Purdue scientists now used the packing peanuts to replace this with a carbon anode.

The first step in the process was heating the packing peanuts (that are either starch-based or made from polystyrene) to a temperature of between 932 to 1,652 ºF (500 and 900 ºC). This heating process was performed in an inert atmosphere, in the presence or absence of a transition metal salt catalyst. Depending on whether the peanuts were starch based or made from polystyrene, this process yielded either carbon nanoparticles or carbon microsheets, which both make superb anodes.

This is due to the fact that anodes produced by this process are only about one tenth as thick as the graphite ones. This allows for quicker charging times. Also, according to the researchers, these new anodes also showed less electrical resistance than graphite, or more accurately, they exhibited a maximum specific capacity of 420 mAh/g (milliamp hours per gram), while the theoretical maximum for graphite anodes is 372 mAh/g. Also, the carbon anodes withstood 300 charging cycles without a significant loss in this capacity.

The microsheets produced via the heating process were especially effective, due to their porous structure, which allowed for more contact area between the anode and the battery’s ion-carrying liquid electrolyte. The next step in the research is to make these even more porous, so as to further enhance their electrochemical performance.

So in short, recycling packing peanuts in this way is a very sustainable solution, and basically kills two birds with one stone. What’s more, the packing peanut conversion process is inexpensive, environmentally-friendly, and would lend itself well to large-scale battery production.

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