The Race to Recycle Lithium-Ion Batteries

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Li-ion batteries are used in cell phones, tablets, laptops, cameras, and other electronic devices. And while nearly 90% of batteries worldwide are recycled, there still lacks a universal standard for recycling these specific batteries, as they can be dangerous if not handled correctly. Nageh Allam, professor of physics, and a team of graduate students in AUC's nanotechnology program are working to solve this.

“Unfortunately, we don’t have a protocol in Egypt to recycle spent batteries in a safe way,” Allam said. Throwing these batteries away, as what’s currently happening, has a detrimental environmental impact, as high temperatures can lead to thermal runaway, fire and explosions due to the components of the batteries. 

ChemElectroChem, one of the world’s leading academic journals in the field of energy conversion and storage, recently published a paper by Allam and the team. The project paves the way for environmental and socioeconomic innovation in Egypt.

“These popular power packs contain precious metals and other materials that can be recovered, treated and reused,” said Yasmeen Mesbah, one of the student researchers. “But very little recycling goes on today. There are mountains of battery waste, so, I think it's time to get serious about recycling lithium-ion batteries.”

The team got to work trying to find the best way to reuse the components of li-ion batteries. 

“That was the most difficult part,” said Nashaat Ahmed, another student on the team. “We worked for about six months to get tangible results.” 

They started by identifying the different metals in the battery and found copper, nickel, manganese and lithium, all which could be recycled and applied to something new. They then extracted those metals and got to work on building an efficient energy storage device. Basant Ali, another student in the group, helped in creating the device and testing it. 

After testing, rebuilding, and testing again, the device showed successful results. 

As for getting their research published in one of the world’s leading academic journals, the team says it’s important to raise awareness about the risks of throwing away daily used batteries and how wrong treatment could be dangerous. 

“On the other hand, it provides a way to change the culture of countries in dealing with spent batteries and how they may turn them into a source of benefit that will diminish environmental pollution and restrain the adverse effects of human health impacts due to potentially toxic materials,” they said. 

The impact of this research is three-fold, said Allam. In addition to showing how recycled materials could be used to build efficient energy storage devices, the research could lead to environmental and socioeconomic change. 

“It can open a way for a new industry and open many work opportunities to recycle batteries and use the recycled materials for a plethora of other industries,” Allam said.

You can read the published article here.