New way to recycle lithium-ion batteries could be a lifeline for electric cars and the environment
The promise of a global electric-vehicle transformation has a looming problem.
The cathodes in the lithium-ion batteries typically used in electric vehicles are made of metal oxides that contain cobalt, a metal found in finite supplies and concentrated in one of the globe's more precarious countries. But an assistant professor at UC San Diego says he has developed a way to recycle used cathodes from spent lithium-ion batteries and restore to perform as well as they did when new.
"Yes, it can work effectively," said Zheng Chen, a 31-year-old who works as a nanoengineer at the Sustainable Power and Energy Center at UC San Diego's Jacobs School of Engineering. The method also works on lithium cobalt oxide, which is widely used in electronic devices such as smartphones and laptops.
The new cathodes have been able to maintain the same charging time, storage capacity and battery lifetime as the originals did. "Originally I thought we couldn't get all this performance back, that we would lose 10% or 20%," Chen said. "But it turns out we're getting exactly the same performance."
Now that the method has been established in the lab, the goal is to optimize the process so it can be economical on an industrial scale.