Improving Lithium Ion Battery Recycling

Thanks to research by Nanoengineers at the University of California San Diego, a new, more cost effective and energy efficient method of battery recycling may be on the horizon.


Battery Waste:

While batteries do not makeup the bulk of waste streams at most manufacturing and distribution facilities, lithium ion batteries can be found in items like the following:

  • Laptops
  • Smartphones
  • Tablets
  • Cordless Power Tools
  • Motors
  • Various Other Portable Electronic Devices
  • Electric Vehicles

Not only do these batteries (and the items containing them) make up some of the most difficult to recycle waste streams, but producing virgin batteries also requires significant “land use changes” including “clearing land, digging mines and storing waste rock,”  as well as “significant energy and chemical” processes (source: The Conversation). These requirements, in turn, cause various environmental and political issues.

Fortunately, researchers at the University of California San Diego have found a new method for recycling the cathodes in lithium ion batteries, which could significantly improve the recyclability of these items.


Breakthrough in Battery Recycling:

According to a recent press release by the UC San Diego News Center, scientists have discovered a method of recycling used lithium ion battery cathodes using half the energy of previous methods, while maintaining quality.

Battery Recycling - Lithium Ion Battery Diagram
Image Credit: “sivVector/Shutterstock
  • A cathode is one of the main parts of a battery, and assists with the propulsion of electrons through an electronic device.
  • Prior to this new recycling discovery, lithium battery cathodes were recycled by shredding them into their various metal components.
  • This old method was highly energy demanding. Also, metal recycled from old cathodes could not be used to create as effective batteries as the originals.
  • In contrast, batteries made from cathodes recycled using the newly discovered method maintain the same energy storage capacity, charging time, and lifetime as new batteries.


The New Process:

Researchers say the new battery recycling method parrots manufacturing methods used to make virgin lithium ion batteries.

  1. First, the cathodes must be separated from the rest of the battery.
  2. Next, engineers soak the cathodes in hot lithium salt baths.
  3. The cathodes are then dried and rapidly heated to 1572 degrees Fahrenheit.
  4. Finally, the substances are cooled, and engineers can re-inject lithium ions into the  cathodes for creating new batteries.

The key reason this recycling method is so energy efficient is because it eliminated the need for reconstructing the cathodes prior to batter assembly.


As always, our team at Northstar is exited to hear about and share any innovations in recycling. We also look forward to the possible environmental benefits this new lithium ion battery recycling processes may promote. In the meantime, we encourage readers to contact us today for any additional information on how we can help your company divert difficult to recycle materials from the landfill.


***Feature Image Credit: “Fishman64/Shutterstock”