Are recycled EV batteries as good as new ones? There is! A thousand times yes!
EVs are a green choice and we love them for that. But they could be even greener if we regularly recycle the precious metals in their batteries instead of constantly squeezing Mother Earth.
The good news is that battery recycling has been gaining traction, and now many companies in North America and Europe are building recycling centers, including Li-Cycle, Northvolt , Redwood Materials, and ReLIB, to name a few.
But here's the bad news: a giant fat elephant is still in the room for car buyers and manufacturers - whether recyclables can be just as good as virgin ones?
There is! A thousand times yes! And I have science to prove.
The cathode is the answer
First, let's refine our physics knowledge.
The cathode is the positive electrode, or simply the positive terminator, of a battery cell. It is where the electric current enters the battery while it is charging, and goes away when it is discharged when the battery is being used to power the car.
So, yes, it's very important.
Class rejected, advancing to scientific proof.
A new study by Professor Yan Wang and a research team from the US Advanced Battery Consortium (USABC), in partnership with battery company A123 Systems, has found that batteries with rechargeable cathodes circulated as well as, or even better the new ones.
How the research was done
The team tested lithium-ion batteries with recycled NMC111 cathodes, the most popular cathode type, which is composed of nickel, manganese, and cobalt.
The researchers' cathode making process involves the following steps:
- They charge the batteries and remove them the steel legs, aluminum and copper wires, plastics, and pouch materials for recycling.
- They disperse the remaining black mass in solvents, and chemically filter out or separate the graphite, carbon, and any inconsistencies.
- They use a patented chemical device from Resource Battery, a start-up company co-founded by Wang, to nickel, manganese, and cobalt in ratios desired to make cathode powder.
The recycled cathode is cool and efficient
Eventually the recycled material had a more microscopic porous structure, which makes it easier for lithium ions to slip in and out.
And trust me, we need these little ones to travel from the chatode to the anode (negative end) of the battery as fast as possible, because it's their move that stores and releases energy.
According to the research, the new structure produced remarkable results: the batteries showed the same energy density as those made with commercial cathodes, and showed a longer life with a whopping 53%.
This makes it hard to argue that batteries with recycled cathodes will leave you in the middle of nowhere, asking for road help.
Has the technology been tested in cars?
Not yet. But it is proven in comparative industrial models.
For example, the researchers created 11 ampere-standard industrial standard pouch cells with the same density of materials as electric vehicle batteries.
They then compared the new cathode with the recycled cathode cells, and found that the recycled material had both a higher quality and life cycle performance.
From what I understand, we are talking about a very bad view. A more durable EV battery, and from what it looks like, a lot better. So yes, I want it.
When can we have this technology?
Battery Resources are already using their cathode recycling technology and sells the recyclables to battery manufacturers, at a small rate for now.
But the company plans to build its first commercial center, capable of processing 10,000 tonnes of battery, by 2022. It has also raised $ 70 and aims to open two more factories in Europe by the end of 2022.
And on top of that, other players in the game are looking at cathode recycling - or "direct" recycling, as I learned today - including Redwood Materials and the ReCell Center.
3 reasons why I want to see recycled cathode batteries so fast
- They are said to be better. And who does not want something better than what they have? This is how our consumerism of capitalism works.
- Let’s get heavy. Tthe most expensive part of the battery is a catode. About 10% to 30% of cathode is made from cobalt, at a price about $ 28,500 per ton. And guess what. This makes cobalt the most valuable element of cathode, more expensive than nickel, manganese, and aluminum combined.
- The cathode is also the most polluted part of the battery. The mining of existing raw materials, virgin renewal, and overseas transportation greatly increase greenhouse gas emissions.
Basically, successful recycled batteries could address the biggest issues facing EVs all at once: range and performance concerns, higher production costs, and environmental impact.
So dear scientists, I would love to see their commercial application soon.
You can find the research in the academic journal Joule.
HT - IEE Spectrum
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