Researchers in Finland have discovered that after a special procedure, electrodes in lithium batteries containing cobalt can be reused.

In contrast to conventional recycling, which usually removes metals from crushed batteries by melting or dissolving them, the latest process—which saturates the electrodes with lithium for the first time—saves valuable raw materials and, most possibly, electricity.

The rise in popularity of electric vehicles, smartphones, and other portable devices has resulted in a 25 percent increase in the global production of rechargeable batteries per year.

Electrically charged particles pass between two electrodes in rechargeable lithium-ion batteries. One electrode is made of lithium cobalt oxide, while the other is made of carbon and copper in most batteries.

Some of the raw materials in batteries are lost in conventional battery processing processes, and lithium cobalt oxide transforms into other cobalt compounds, which require a lengthy chemical refining process to convert back into electrode content.

The new method developed by Aalto University scientists avoids this time-consuming procedure: the cobalt compound can be directly reused by replenishing the spent lithium in the electrode via an electrolysis process, which is widely used in industry.

The results, published in ChemSusChem journal, show that the performance of electrodes newly saturated with lithium is almost as good as that of those made of new material.

Professor Tanja Kallio of Aalto University believes that with further progress, the method could be used on a large scale.

‘By reusing the structures of batteries we can avoid a lot of the labour that is common in recycling and potentially save energy at the same time. We believe that the method could help companies that are developing industrial recycling,’ Kallio says.

The researchers now want to see if the same approach can be applied to nickel-based batteries used in electric vehicles.

Follow Us

By jerk