Using century-old minerals processing methods, chemical engineering students have found a solution to a looming 21st-century problem: how to economically recycle lithium ion batteries.
Lei Pan’s team of chemical engineering students had worked long and hard on their research project, and they were happy just to be showing their results at the People, Prosperity and the Planet (P3) competition last April in Washington, DC. What they didn’t expect was to be mobbed by enthusiastic onlookers.
“We got a lot of ‘oh wow!’ responses, from eight-year-olds wanting to know how it worked to EPA officials wondering why no one had done this before,” says senior Zachary Oldenburg. “My response to the EPA was, ‘Because no one else had a project leader who’s a mining engineer.’”
Pan, an assistant professor of chemical engineering at Michigan Technological University, earned his graduate degrees in mining engineering. It was his idea to adapt 20th century mining technology to recycle lithium ion batteries, from the small ones in cell phones to the multi-kilowatt models that power electric cars. Pan figured the same technologies used to separate metal from ore could be applied to spent batteries. So he gave his students a crash course in basic minerals processing methods and set them loose in the lab.
A Rocky Start
“My mind goes back to the beginning, when nothing was working,” says Trevyn Payne, a chemical engineering senior. “A lot of times it was, honestly, ‘Let’s just try this.’ Sometimes when things worked out, it was kind of an accident.”
Oldenburg provides an example. “We were trying all kinds of solvents to liberate chemicals, and after hours and hours, we found out that plain water worked the best.”
But eventually, everything came together. “You can see your results improve experiment by experiment,” explains doctoral student Ruiting Zhan. “That’s pretty good. It gives you a sense of achievement.”
Cheaper, Easier, Better
The team used mining industry technologies to separate everything in the battery: the casing, metal foils and coatings for the anode and cathode, which includes lithium metal oxide, the most valuable part. The components can be returned to the manufacturer and re-made into new batteries.
“The biggest advantage of our process is that it’s inexpensive and energy efficient.”
“For the purpose of remanufacturing, our recycled materials are as good as virgin materials, and they are cheaper,” Oldenburg adds.
The fact that their process is tried and true is perhaps its most attractive quality to industry, Pan notes. “We saw the opportunity to use an existing technology to address emerging challenges,” he says. “We use standard gravity separations to separate copper from aluminum, and we use froth flotation to recover critical materials, including graphite, lithium and cobalt. These mining technologies are the cheapest available, and the infrastructure to implement them already exists.
Kudos from AIChE
Passers-by weren’t the only ones at the P3 competition impressed by the students’ effort. AIChE’s (the American Institute of Chemical Engineers) Youth Council on Sustainable Science and Technology (YCOSST) has announced it will be presenting the team its YCOSST P3 Award, which recognizes the project “that best employs sustainable practices, interdisciplinary collaborations, engineering principles and youth involvement, and whose design is simple enough to have a sustainable impact without requiring significant technical expertise of its users.”
The team members, including Oldenburg, Payne, Zhan and undergraduate Lucille Nunneley, will be given the award in October, at the AIChE annual meeting in Pittsburgh, where they will also present their results. The award includes $1,000 to help cover student travel costs.
To advance their research, Pan has received funding from the Michigan Technological University Translational Research and Commercialization (MTRAC) statewide Innovation Hub.
The project was funded by a $15,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency and an article on their work, “Recovery of Active Cathode Materials from Lithium-Ion Batteries Using Froth Flotation,” (DOI:10.1016/j.susmat.2018.e00062) authored by Pan, Zhan and Oldenburg, was published online June 15 in Sustainable Materials and Technologies.
Learn more: Teaching Old Tech New Tricks
The Latest on: Lithium-ion-batteries
via Google News
The Latest on: Lithium-ion-batteries
- Lithium ion batteries cause scrap metal fire in Tacoma; experts say air quality is now safe on September 18, 2018 at 5:06 pm
TACOMA , Wash. -- Tacoma fire investigators say it was lithium ion batteries inside an electronic that caused a fire at Simon Metals early Monday morning. Investigators say spontaneous combustion ... […]
- X-rays uncover a hidden property that leads to failure in a lithium-ion battery material on September 18, 2018 at 12:56 pm
Menlo Park, Calif. -- Over the past three decades, lithium-ion batteries, rechargeable batteries that move lithium ions back and forth to charge and discharge, have enabled smaller devices that ... […]
- Explainer: why lithium ion batteries could be a game changer in Africa on September 18, 2018 at 7:05 am
Renewable energy resources – such as wind, water or solar solutions – hold great promise. They could provide energy while overcoming Africa’s infrastructural challenges. But this energy ... […]
- Raj wins graduate student fellowship from DOE to study lithium ion batteries on September 17, 2018 at 8:12 am
Abhi Raj, a Ph.D. candidate in electrical engineering, has been selected by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) as one of 47 recipients of a fellowship from the Office of Science Graduate Student Rese... […]
- Lead-acid Batteries Thrive Amidst Competition from Lithium-ion on September 17, 2018 at 7:03 am
There’s been a lot of buzz in the battery industry about the growth of lithium-ion batteries and how they will grab market share from lead-acid as the need for efficient energy sources in electric veh... […]
- Lithium-ion batteries explosive issue on September 17, 2018 at 6:05 am
MADISON, Wis. — What happens to gadgets when you’re done with them? Too often, they explode. As we enter new-gadget buying season, spare a moment to meet the people who end up handling your old stuff. ... […]
- Saft plans production of lithium ion batteries on September 17, 2018 at 12:08 am
Automotive News reported that France's Saft, a unit of energy company Total, expects its four-way European battery alliance to begin mass production of next-generation lithium ion batteries ... […]
- Better lithium ion batteries on the cards on September 14, 2018 at 8:53 am
A team of scientists at India Institute of Technology (IIT), Hyderabad, has developed a set of new electrodes that promise to help produce lithium ion batteries with higher energy densities. Battery c... […]
- Lithium Ion Batteries Provide Reliable Backup Power For Data Centers on September 13, 2018 at 6:59 am
Lithium ion batteries are dominating the future of electric vehicles (EVs), personal electronics, and grid scale utility backup systems. One additional and relatively new application for lithium ion b... […]
via Bing News