Industrial Electronics

New recycling method saves cobalt from rechargeable batteries

30 April 2021

Researchers from Aalto University, Finland, have created a way to recycle cobalt from batteries without crushing or melting. The main cause of battery deterioration is the depletion of lithium in the electrode material. The structures themselves remain relatively stable and therefore can be used in other electronics.

There has been a 25% increase in global manufacturing for rechargeable batteries every year. Raw, limited materials, like cobalt, are consumed in these batteries. Due to the limited abundance of these resources, the world needs to find a way to recycling them. The European Commission published a new degree that would require 95% of cobalt used in batteries to be recycled, but there is currently no perfect, harm-free recycling method.

Traditional recycling typically extracts metals from crushed batteries through melting or dissolving. With this method, some of the materials are lost and lithium cobalt turns into other compounds. The new process saves raw materials after they have already been used without a harmful process.Electrodes removed from the batteries. Electrodes consist of a film made from aluminum or copper, for example, which is covered with a thin layer of active material. Source: Aalto UniversityElectrodes removed from the batteries. Electrodes consist of a film made from aluminum or copper, for example, which is covered with a thin layer of active material. Source: Aalto University

Rechargeable lithium-ion batteries have two electrodes, one composed of lithium cobalt oxide and the other made of carbon and copper. The team discovered that cobalt electrodes can be reused after being saturated in lithium.

The new method replenishes spent lithium in the electrode through an electrolysis process, and the cobalt can be directly reused. The performance of the electrode’s newly saturated lithium is almost as good as those made of new materials. With further development, the team says their method could work on an industrial scale.

Reusing structures of batteries avoids the labor that is common in recycling and potentially saves energy and time. Eventually, this research could help develop industrial recycling.

The next step is to investigate if the same method could be used with nickel-based batteries of electric cars.

This study was published in ChemSumChem.



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