Nano-engineers develop technique to restore lithium ion batteries used in smartphones and electric vehicles Posted by Damien Biddulph on Tue 30th Jan 2018
Scientists claim to have found a process for turning worn-out batteries back into new ones
Yang Shi & Professor Zheng Chen developed a method to recycle and regenerate cathodes of spent lithium ion batteries. Image copyright David Baillot/UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering
Scientists claim to have developed a battery recycling process that restores worn cathodes in lithium ion batteries, enabling them to be re-used like new.
Nano-engineers from the University of California, San Diego detailed the process this week, which takes cathodes from used batteries and turns them into new ones.
They explained that the process takes worn-out cathode particles from old batteries, before boiling and heat-treating them. The researchers say there were able to use them to create batteries that operated like new ones.
Zheng Chen, a professor of nano-engineering at University of California, San Diego, led the process. He said it could transform the way batteries are manufactured and recycled.
If we can sustainably harvest and re-use materials from old batteries, we can potentially prevent such significant environmental damage and waste
"Think about the millions of tons of lithium ion battery waste in the future, especially with the rise of electric vehicles, and the depletion of precious resources like lithium and cobalt - mining more of these resources will contaminate our water and soil,' he explained.
"If we can sustainably harvest and re-use materials from old batteries, we can potentially prevent such significant environmental damage and waste."
Working with the sustainable power and energy centre at UC San Diego, Chen explained that this work could "address economic issues related to battery waste".
"The price of lithium, cobalt and nickel has increased significantly. Recovering these expensive materials could lower battery costs," he said.
Published in Green Chemistry, this research specifically focused on a battery cathode material called lithium cobalt oxide. It's used in electrical devices, such as smartphones and laptops.
However, the actual method can also be extended to NMC, which is a type of lithium cathode made up of nickel, manganese and cobalt. It, too, is common in consumer electronic devices.
After taking particles from used batteries, researchers exposed them to "a hot, alkaline, solution containing lithium salt" that can be "recycled and re-used to process more batches". They were able to make new batteries in the lab.
Chen added: "We can simply restore the degraded material by putting it through the same processing steps. The goal is to make this a general recycling process for all cathodes."