One of the most contentious issues in clean energy is the lithium battery. From environmental mining dangers to inhumane working conditions, the extraction of lithium and other minerals for batteries to power electric vehicles and complement renewable energy is rife with complications. However, a new study published last week in Joule highlights a potential solution. While recycled materials are usually viewed as inferior to new materials, this study shows that recycled lithium may be as good or better than newly mined lithium when it comes to life cycle energy retention. Instead of constantly mining new lithium, a circular flow of recycling old, spent lithium could be created, providing a renewable battery material for renewable energy.
The study’s researchers looked at recycled material which included not just lithium but also nickel, manganese, cobalt, and oxygen. The mineral is recycled through a complex process of mechanical shredding, chemical adjustment, and a final step of sintering, a compacting process that generates a solid mass of material. According to the study, this final product of recycled mineral is between “33% and 53% better than the state-of-the-art, commercial LiNi1/3Mn1/3Co1/3O2.” That last term is the molecular formula for the lithium material we have been discussing.
The implications of this research could be extremely beneficial for climate action and movement toward a clean energy future. From electric vehicles to renewable energy generation like wind and solar, batteries are a core aspect of emissions reduction. An avenue for reusing old batteries both eliminates possible waste and prevents additional emissions associated with mining and procurement. In recognizing the importance of these findings, the study concludes by saying “the recycled material outperforms commercially available equivalent, providing a green and sustainable solution for spent lithium-ion batteries.” Coinciding commercial and sustainable interests, lithium batteries seem to be an even greater boon then previously thought.