Recycled tires could possibly see new life in lithium-ion batteries, according to recent research. At least, that could be the case for batteries that provide power to plug-in electric vehicles and store energy produced by wind and solar, researchers say.

By modifying the microstructural characteristics of carbon black, a substance recovered from discarded tires, a team from Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) is developing a better anode for lithium-ion batteries. An anode is a negatively charged electrode used for storing lithium during charging, and is currently one of the leading battery components.

The unique method, described in further detail in the journal RSC Advances, offers numerous advantages over conventional approaches to making anodes for lithium-ion batteries.

Not only does it have the potential to innovate the production of these types of batteries, but it can also help solve the problem of discarded tires adding to trash piles.

"Using waste tires for products such as energy storage is very attractive not only from the carbon materials recovery perspective but also for controlling environmental hazards caused by waste tire stock piles," lead researcher Parans Paranthaman said in a news release.

The technique, developed by ORNL researchers, treats tires in a way that recovers a pyrolytic carbon black material, which is similar to graphite but man-made. When the research team then used this material in anodes of lithium-ion batteries, they produced a small-scale battery that, it turns out, had a higher reversible capacity than what traditional graphite can achieve.

In fact, after 100 cycles the capacity measures nearly 390 milliamp hours per gram of carbon anode, which exceeds the optimal performance of commercial graphite products.

According to Paranthaman, "This kind of performance is highly encouraging." Especially considering that the global battery market for vehicles and military uses is approaching $78 billion. It is expected to hit $11 billion in 2018, Paranthaman adds.

"This technology addresses the need to develop an inexpensive, environmentally benign carbon composite anode material with high-surface area, higher-rate capability and long-term stability," added co-author Amit Naskar.