Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis, Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, published a study where they show that it is possible to regenerate the complete lithium cobalt oxide compounds in lithium-ion batteries, as opposed to recovering individual elements and then putting them together.
In detail, the team led by environmental engineer Zhen He used an electrodeposition process where they deposited an additional amount of lithium-ion on waste electrodes. This process was driven by the electricity that creates the electric field to absorb the ion onto the electrode. By doing this, the researchers were able to get a complete formula that allowed them to reuse a good amount of the materials inside the battery.
According to the scientists, the driving force behind this work was their concern about the generation of secondary pollutants that results from existing battery recycling processes, most of which extract the materials separately through mechanical methods and require additional reagents.
Because of this and due to the fact that batteries are inexpensive, there is little incentive to recycle, so only about 5% of lithium-ion batteries are recycled.
Zhen He pointed out that in China only, about 2.5 billion end-of-life lithium-ion batteries from portable electronics such as smartphones and laptops will be generated by the end of 2020. Thus, the researcher believes that recovering and recycling critical elements from these devices will play a key role in the sustainability of resource use.