A multidisciplinary team of researchers from Texas A&M has made a breakthrough that could lead to battery production moving away from cobalt and marks significant progress toward sustainable, recyclable batteries that minimize dependence on strategic metals.
Current li-ion (lithium-ion) batteries utilize significant amounts of cobalt which, in several well-documented international cases, is mined using child labor in dangerous working environments. Additionally, only a very small percentage of li-ion batteries are recycled, increasing the demand for cobalt and other strategic elements.
“The big problem with lithium-ion batteries right now is that they’re not recycled to the degree that we are going to need for the future electrified transportation economy.”
In an article published in Nature, Dr. Jodie Lutkenhaus, Axalta Coating Systems Chair and professor in the Artie McFerrin Department of Chemical Engineering, and Dr. Karen Wooley, Distinguished Professor in the Department of Chemistry, along with lead author Tan Nguyen, a postdoctoral associate at the University of Michigan, outlined their research into a new battery technology platform that is completely metal free. This technology utilizes a nontoxic polypeptide organic radical construction that also solves the problem of recyclability.
The components of the new battery platform can be degraded on demand in acidic conditions to generate amino acids, other building blocks and degradation products — one of the major breakthroughs in this research.
“The big problem with lithium-ion batteries right now is that they’re not recycled to the degree that we are going to need for the future electrified transportation economy,”
Lutkenhaus said. “The rate of recycling lithium-ion batteries right now is in the single digits. There is valuable material in the lithium-ion battery, but it’s very difficult and energy intensive to recover.”
This work was funded by the NSF, the Welch Foundation and the U.S. DOE Office of Science.
Dr. Jodie Lutkenhaus
- Axalta Coating Systems Chair