Friday, May 31, 2024

A Recyclable Organo-Ionic Electrolyte That Can Be Liquefied

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Engineers from the Molecular Foundry and Energy Storage division have developed an electrolyte material for solid-state batteries that allows cathodes to retain up to 90% of their initial capacity upon reuse.

Fabrication of solid-state cells with ORION conductors.(A) Fabricating all solid-state lithium metal cells from ball-milled ORION powders, which are initially sandwiched between a porous cathode and Li metal anode. (B) At and above 100°C, ORION conductors are viscoelastic liquids that infiltrate porous cathodes while also conforming to the Li metal surface. (C) After cooling, the ORION conductor solidifies, creating an all-solid-state lithium metal cell. Synchrotron hard x-ray tomography images of (D) an as-assembled ORION SSB and (E) an ORION SSB after thermal conditioning. Credit: Science Advances (2023). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.adh9020

Many electric vehicles on the market today utilize lithium-ion batteries because of their impressive power-to-weight ratio. However, despite their suitability for such purposes, these batteries are heavy and challenging to recycle.

Engineers from the Molecular Foundry and the Energy Storage division at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have crafted an electrolyte material for solid-state batteries. This advancement permits the cathodes to be reused with up to 90% of their original capacity.

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Lithium-ion batteries, true to their name, rely on lithium salt electrolytes. In the innovative approach, the team incorporated the same salt into their novel electrolyte but enhanced its properties by introducing organic-based zwitterionic polymers. They then assembled a battery using this modified electrolyte, pairing it with a lithium metal anode and cathodes composed of various materials, including lithium iron, phosphate, nickel, cobalt, and manganese. As indicated by the researchers, the battery produced is considerably more recyclable than existing batteries, irrespective of the chosen cathode type. This enhanced recyclability stems from the polymer in the electrolyte that facilitates its melting at 100°C. 

After reaching the melted state, the battery can be conveniently deconstructed, enabling the individual components to be recycled. The researchers highlight that before reaching its melting point, the electrolyte remains highly conductive, viscoelastic and maintains a solid form at usual operating temperatures. Experiments on the battery revealed high conductivity at temperatures reaching 45°C. Additionally, the team observed that after disassembling the battery, the cathode retained 90% of its initial capacity, paving the way for straightforward recycling.

While further testing is required, the research group believes that the novel electrolyte will meet expectations. This could set the stage for future electric vehicles equipped with more eco-friendly batteries.

Reference: Jiwoong Bae et al, Closed-loop cathode recycling in solid-state batteries enabled by supramolecular electrolytes, Science Advances (2023). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.adh9020

Nidhi Agarwal
Nidhi Agarwal
Nidhi Agarwal is a journalist at EFY. She is an Electronics and Communication Engineer with over five years of academic experience. Her expertise lies in working with development boards and IoT cloud. She enjoys writing as it enables her to share her knowledge and insights related to electronics, with like-minded techies.

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