PITTSBURG, Kan. (AP) — Researchers at Pittsburg State University in Kansas are trying to turn natural waste into green energy.

Ram Gupta, an assistant professor of chemistry, and a team of his students are looking to transform waste such as green tea leaves into batteries, the Joplin Globe reported .

"Our idea is to use eco-friendly materials which aren't reactive with air," Gupta said. "We can work these into an active carbon, which is a main ingredient in batteries. It has a very promising future."

The project aims to develop a suitable high-performance, lightweight and safe replacement for lithium batteries, which are commonly used to power cellphones, computers and some cars. But researchers said the chemistry of lithium batteries make them more likely to catch fire under certain conditions because they contain a flammable electrolyte and are kept pressurized.

Gupta said the team has created small batteries from tea leaves and bamboo. The team is now focusing on creating a hybrid device that has the long-lasting power of a battery and the instant charge of a supercapacitor.

Such a battery could be used in anything from a cellphone to an electric car, said Sanket Bhoyate, a student on the team. Bhoyate said his dream would be to create a safe battery that could charge a handheld device in a matter of seconds.

"Every day, we have to charge our phone for hours," he said. "I feel like if we can have charging for less than a second, that would be my accomplishment if I could do it commercially."

Gupta said the challenge with creating batteries from tea leaves is consistency. While all leaves vary slightly depending where and how they were grown, the lithium component of lithium batteries is consistent.

The project is funded partly by the Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council.

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Information from: The Joplin (Mo.) Globe, http://www.joplinglobe.com