All About Battery Energy

Contributing towards global net zero

Recycled batteries. Can they work better than new ones?

13 July, 2023

Recycled batteries. Can they work better than new ones?

Hey, a quick heads up: this page may include affiliate links.

If you click and purchase from these links, we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Read more here.

Recycled batteries can make our energy future sustainable. But how well will they perform? You’ll be surprised…

The need for recycled batteries

In today’s fast-paced, technology-driven world, the use of batteries has become increasingly ubiquitous. From powering our smartphones and laptops to driving electric vehicles, batteries play a vital role in our daily lives. However, the widespread consumption of batteries also raises environmental concerns, making battery recycling a crucial practice for a sustainable future.

Firstly, batteries contain hazardous materials such as lead, cadmium, mercury, and lithium. When improperly disposed of, these toxic substances can leach into soil and water sources, polluting ecosystems and posing serious health risks to humans and wildlife alike. By recycling batteries, we can mitigate these dangers and prevent the release of harmful chemicals into the environment.

Secondly, batteries are composed of valuable resources such as metals, including lithium, cobalt, nickel, and copper. These materials require significant energy and resources to extract and refine. Recycling batteries allows us to recover these precious resources, reducing the need for environmentally damaging mining operations. By reusing the recovered metals, we can conserve natural resources, minimize energy consumption, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with primary resource extraction.

Lastly, recycling batteries helps to create a circular economy. Instead of treating batteries as disposable items, recycling facilities can extract valuable materials from spent batteries and use them in the production of new batteries. This closed-loop approach reduces the demand for virgin resources, minimizes waste generation, and decreases the environmental footprint of battery manufacturing. Furthermore, recycling batteries promotes the development of more sustainable technologies by fostering research and innovation in battery design, materials, and manufacturing processes.

Why aren’t we already using recycled batteries?

The main reason is that there are concerns surrounding the use of recycled materials in the batteries industry, particularly regarding their ability to compete with brand new batteries in terms of cost, yield, and performance. The key factor determining the impact of recycled materials lies in their electrochemical performance. Since lithium-ion batteries have complex compositions, different recycling processes may introduce impurities.

Although many recycling methods claim to eliminate the influence of impurities, their presence still raises doubts about the performance of recycled materials. There are efforts to optimize the recycling process while simultaneously reducing costs and increasing yields. In other words, it’s a matter of how costly the use of recycled batteries will be and at what return.

Can recycled batteries perform as well as new ones?

It turns out they can! We dug out a very interesting research paper published at The Cell Journal back in November 17, 2021. A team of 27 researchers made some extensive tests on materials taken from recycled batteries and compiled a very detailed paper on their findings. Their findings were totally unexpected and opened the way to convincing battery manufacturers to start using recycled battery materials.

Recycled Batteries

Recycled Batteries – Credit to the Joule Journal

Through in-depth experimental and modeling analysis of both pristine and cycled materials, these researchers uncovered a significant advantage in the microstructure of recycled lithium-nickel-manganese-cobalt oxide in terms of rate performance, cycle life, and phase transformation. The recycled material exhibits a distinct porous structure with larger internal voids, which contributes to its superior performance. To put it simply, under the microscope, the material looks like a sponge.

Compared to new batteries, the recycled batteries showed an 82.14% increase in surface area and a 61.25% increase in cumulative pore volume. This unique microstructure plays a crucial role in reducing hoop stress by 16% during the discharge / charge process, as compared to a new battery!

Hoop stress? What is that?

Hoop stress refers to the circumferential stress that occurs within a cylindrical object, such as a battery cell. In the context of batteries, hoop stress is the stress experienced by the battery material during the discharge and charge cycles. When a battery is being discharged or charged, the internal pressure and expansion of the materials can cause stress to build up along the circumference of the cell.

Hoop stress is particularly relevant in battery systems that use cylindrical cell designs, such as lithium-ion batteries. As the battery goes through repeated cycles of discharging and charging, the expansion and contraction of the active materials inside the cell can exert pressure on the cell walls. This pressure can result in hoop stress, which may impact the structural integrity and overall performance of the battery.

Managing hoop stress is important in battery design and engineering. Excessive hoop stress can lead to mechanical strain, deformation, or even rupture of the battery cell, which can compromise its safety and performance. Battery manufacturers and researchers strive to optimize cell designs, materials, and manufacturing processes to minimize hoop stress and ensure the longevity and reliability of the battery during its operational lifespan.

What other performance benefits did recycled batteries show?

The study revealed that 1 Ah cells containing recycled lithium-nickel oxide or manganese-cobalt oxide exhibited the highest reported cycle life among recycled materials. These cells demonstrated impressive longevity, withstanding 4,200 cycles and 11,600 cycles while retaining 80% and 70% of their capacity, respectively! This performance surpassed the state-of-the-art commercial lithium nickel manganese oxide batteries by 33% and 53%. Moreover, the rate performance of the recycled material excelled, surpassing commercial powders by 88.6% at a 5C rate!

These findings open up possibilities for integrating recycled materials into the production of new batteries. By capitalizing on the advantageous microstructure of recycled batteries, researchers can potentially enhance battery performance while promoting the reuse of materials, thereby contributing to a more sustainable and efficient battery industry.

You can read the detailed paper of this study here.