The proliferation of electric cars, smartphones, and portable devices drives an estimated 25% increase in rechargeable battery manufacturing worldwide each year. Many raw materials used in batteries, such as cobalt, could soon be in short supply. The European Commission is preparing a new battery decree, which would require the recycling of 95% of the cobalt in batteries. Yet existing methods of recycling batteries are far from perfect.
Researchers at Aalto University have now discovered that the electrodes in lithium batteries containing cobalt can be reused as they are after being newly saturated with lithium. Compared to traditional recycling, which typically extracts metals from crushed batteries by melting or dissolving them, the new process saves valuable raw materials, and possibly energy as well.
“In our previous study on the aging of lithium and cobalt oxide batteries, we noticed that one of the main causes of battery deterioration is the depletion of lithium in the electrode material. The structures can nevertheless remain relatively stable, so we wanted to see if they could be reused, ”explains Professor Tanja Kallio from Aalto University.
Rechargeable lithium-ion batteries have two electrodes between which electrically charged particles move. Lithium cobalt oxide is used in one electrode, and in most batteries the other is carbon and copper.
In traditional battery recycling methods, some raw materials from the batteries are lost and lithium cobalt oxide is transformed into other cobalt compounds, which requires a long chemical refinement process to convert them back into solid material. ‘electrode. The new method avoids this tedious process: by reconstituting the spent lithium in the electrode by an electrolysis process, commonly used in industry, the cobalt compound can be directly reused.
The results show that the performance of the newly saturated lithium electrodes is almost as good as that of the new material. Kallio believes that with further development the method would also work on an industrial scale.
“By reusing battery structures, we can avoid much of the current workforce in recycling and potentially save energy at the same time. We believe this method could help companies that develop industrial recycling, ”says Kallio.
The researchers then try to see if the same method could also be used with nickel-based batteries in electric cars.
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