According to a paper recently published in the scientific journal Advanced Materials, a team of scientists has discovered a new and somewhat unique method of recovering the raw materials from used lithium-ion batteries. The technique uses a rotating reactor that’s segmented into three liquid-filled sections. On one end is the “feed” solution, and the other end holds the “acceptor” solution. The two are separated by an extractant called the “shuttle.”
At the end of a lithium-ion battery’s useful life, some of its chemical components are mixed together, which is a major challenge when it comes to reusing the materials. With this new method, the mixed materials can be injected into the feed solution while the reactor is rotating. The elements move back and forth from one end of the reactor to the other, passing through the shuttle in a process that’s something akin to passing through a sieve. As the reactor rotates, the elements separate to different sides, making them much easier to collect and reuse. Amazingly, the process takes only a matter of minutes while also using a lesser amount of chemicals compared to related methods.
This is a huge milestone for the viability of large, mass-produced lithium-ion batteries. Of course, other practical obstacles remain, such as building a battery recycling industry infrastructure that doesn’t involve constantly shipping spent batteries halfway around the globe, but still, this is a big deal. Then again, by the time we get lithium-ion recycling figured out maybe we’ll already be switching to hydrogen.
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