By Huck Fairman
Countless used lithium-ion batteries, many from electric vehicles, are being added
to our waste collections. This has been because there has been no economical way
to revive and reuse them.
Now, however, Princeton University researchers have come up with an inexpensive and sustainable way to make new batteries from the used ones.
A researcher in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Chao Yan, has explained that this innovation takes donated dead batteries and installs new cathode materials which revive the batteries inexpensively. Yan has in fact co-founded and runs a new company, Princeton NuEnergy, which combines knowledge from different fields, and has developed a process to solve this problem.
Whereas current recycling of lithium batteries requires corrosive chemicals and high temperatures, neither economic nor environmentally sound, the company can recycle and upgrade the cathodes using less energy and water and producing fewer emissions.
Their process recovers much of the structure and composition of the used cathode, along with cobalt and lithium.
The company’s process uses “low-temperature” plasma which can be used to remove
contaminants from the cathode powder and thus cleans the cathode without destroying it.
Because used batteries have lost some lithium out of the cathode material, Princeton NuEnergy adds small amounts of lithium into their regenerated cathode powder – a cheaper process than obtaining new materials.
The company is looking to scale up production to see if the process works for producing tons instead of kilograms of cathode material.
The researchers said only about 5% of used lithium-ion batteries are currently recycled in the United States. Reaching net-zero emissions by mid-century would mean the number of electric vehicles would increase from about one million on the road today to between 210 to 330 million. Electric vehicle batteries have a lifetime of five to 10 years.
In a somewhat related development around electric vehicles (EVs), the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is offering grants to establish Publicly Accessible EV fast-charging stations. Obviously such stations would make recharging EVs more convenient and could reduce the range-anxiety that those considering changing to EVs may be experiencing. Companies with commuters who drive to work, and shopping areas may find these grants of interest.
Applications for the grants can be submitted beginning March 14, and webinars hosted by the DEP will be held on Feb. 23 and 24.
Given the local and global impacts of emissions’ contributions to global warming, both of these innovations should be beneficial.