In Like a Li-ion, Out Like a Battery Waste Reduction Plan

Good Tuesday afternoon, everyone. Developing longer-lasting, more powerful, less environmentally taxing batteries is a hot tech sector right now. Batteries and fuel cells are considered a major part of the energy transition away from fossil fuels for a slew of applications, from powering vehicles to home heating and cooling systems and consumer electronics.

But solutions for what to do with end-of-life batteries haven’t kept pace with explosive product use. In fact, last year the Department of Energy launched the ReCell Center, an advanced battery recycling R&D center, at Argonne National Laboratory to address what to do with the growing number of end-of-life lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries, considering only about 5% of them are recycled.

Now a team of researchers at Washington University in St. Louis is working on the issue, with a method to recycle and reuse the valuable material remaining in end-of-life Li-on batteries.

  • The team conducted a feasibility study on electrochemically “refilling” spent Li-ion batteries to regenerate the useful compounds such as lithium cobalt oxide.
  • “Since 95% of the materials are still there and usable, we wanted to see if we could regenerate the complete lithium cobalt oxide compounds directly instead of recovering individual elements and then putting them together to be a useful compound,” lead researcher Zhen (Jason) He said in a news release. “We used an electrodeposition process where we deposited the lithium ions on the waste electrodes driven by the electricity that creates the electric field to absorb the ion onto the electrode.”
  • This method of reusing the valuable materials in a battery cuts down on landfill-bound waste. It reportedly does not require additional reagents that can produce secondary pollutants, and it may conserve the limited lithium supply.
  • The team considers its feasibility study a success and plans to continue work on regenerating lithium-ion battery materials and to study the method’s cost effectiveness.

Today’s headlines:

🔋 BATTERIES: In other battery news, a South Dakota State University professor is developing a protective coating and an artificial interfacial layer that will increase lithium-ion batteries’ energy density and storage capacity.

⚡ EFFICIENCY: Michigan State University Professor Emeritus John Foss and Vytau K. Virskus of Millenium Energy Company were awarded a patent for a mass flow meter that measures water flow and energy use in heating/cooling systems. The device will enable more accurate energy management in commercial and industrial buildings, and it could scale up or down for other applications. Laboratory performance testing on the first prototype will begin soon.

A catalyst material used to covert ethanol into butene-rich mixed olefins, which can then be readily processed into aviation fuels. Credit: Carlos Jones/ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy.

🔌 UTILITIES: The Midcontinent Independent System Operator and Southwest Power Pool are cooperating on a year-long study to find efficient and cost-effective power transmission upgrade solutions. They’re specifically focusing on innovations that help to overcome challenges at “seams,” or where transmission boundaries connect.

🌞 SOLAR: University of Notre Dame engineers are building a new class of high-speed light sensors to do more advanced imaging of the sun. They hope to get a better understanding of the role magnetic fields play in solar flares and predict solar activity that could affect power grid systems.