Hate buying some new gadget, only to wind up with a sea of packing peanuts that do little more than spill on to the floor? Don't be too quick to toss them out -- they may be the key to a new generation of lithium-ion batteries. Purdue University researchers have developed a heating process that converts these shipping leftovers into anodes (where lithium ions are stored during charging) made from carbon. On top of eliminating waste, this technique should lead to batteries that recharge much faster. The carbon anodes are only a tenth as thick as their commercially available counterparts, so they don't produce nearly as much electrical resistance.
There's still some refinement necessary before you're buying peanut-powered devices, mostly in terms of capacity. Lab samples last for a respectable 300 charging cycles without losing capacity, but you'd need more for hardware that's going to be used for years. However, the approach is already practical: it's cheap, simple and easy to implement on a large scale. It won't be at all shocking if you can one day buy a quick-charging phone and send the packing foam back to help make more phones, rather than throwing it in the trash.
[Image credit: Joey Yee, Flickr]