Stock photo displays rows of batteries.

As electrical automobile adoption grows, the necessity for battery recycling is rising together with it. Usually, recycling includes breaking the battery down into pure chemical elements that may be reconstituted for brand-new battery supplies. However what if—not less than for some battery chemistries—that’s overkill?

A brand new research led by Panpan Xu on the College of California, San Diego exhibits off a really completely different approach for lithium-iron-phosphate (LFP) batteries. This isn’t probably the most energy-dense sort of lithium-ion battery, however it’s economical and long-lived. (It’s the chemistry Tesla desires to depend on for shorter-range automobiles and grid storage batteries, for instance.) Its low value cuts each methods—cheaper elements imply much less revenue from recycling operations. However rejuvenating the lithium-iron-phosphate cathode materials with out breaking it down and beginning over appears to be attainable.

The thought behind the research depends on information of how LFP battery capability degrades. On the cathode facet, the crystalline construction of the fabric doesn’t change over time. As a substitute, lithium ions more and more fail to seek out their approach again into their slots within the crystal throughout battery discharge. Iron atoms can transfer and take their place, plugging up the lithium pathway. In case you may persuade iron atoms to return to their assigned seats and repopulate with lithium atoms, you would have cathode materials that’s actually “nearly as good as new.”

To check a way for performing this reset, the researchers took industrial batteries and charged and discharged them till the batteries had misplaced half their capability. (A discount to 80 % capability is usually the outlined “finish of life” marker.) Then the researchers disassembled the batteries and harvested the LFP cathode powder.


Step one is “relithiation”—bathing the powder for quite a lot of hours in a heated lithium answer that additionally included some citric acid. The nice and cozy temperature (round 80°C/175°F) and citric acid assist the iron atoms return to their houses within the crystalline lattice in addition to assist the lithium ions pop again into place.

After washing and drying the powder, the crew examined new cathodes made with the recycled materials. However whereas this confirmed “like new” capability, it degraded pretty shortly. So the researchers added a second step within the course of: annealing the dry powder at a lot larger temperatures.

Over a number of hours, the rejuvenated powder was heated to 600°C (1,112°F), held there for some time, after which cooled again down. This improved the order and stability of the crystalline construction within the powder particles, and the cathodes made after this course of held their capability identically to the brand-new ones by means of 300 cost cycles.

The direct recycling process can skip some steps, yet is left with a more valuable product.
Enlarge / The direct recycling course of can skip some steps, but is left with a extra invaluable product.

This “direct recycling” course of has a powerful financial benefit over typical strategies. The researchers say it makes use of 80-90 % much less power and, consequently, is related to round 75 % much less greenhouse fuel emissions. For LFP batteries, the researchers estimate that hydrometallurgical processes (primarily based on dissolving supplies and chemically separating them) run at a web lack of round $1.40 per kilogram. Pyrometallurgical processes (which begin by melting every little thing) are even worse, costing round $2.60 per kilogram. However the researchers’ direct recycling course of can run at a revenue, producing barely over $1 per kilogram.

This method won’t be restricted to LFP batteries, both. The researchers point out lithium-manganese-oxide chemistries, particularly, as a possible candidate. That is one other widespread sort of lithium-ion battery utilized in a variety of purposes.

As with all laboratory know-how, there will definitely be challenges to sort out with a purpose to scale this to a industrial recycling plant. But when that may be achieved, this method may assist develop the vary of batteries that may be recycled economically, decreasing the reliance on mining to provide virgin supplies.

Joule, 2020. DOI: 10.1016/j.joule.2020.10.008 (About DOIs).


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