As the world transitions to greener technologies, batteries are an increasing and stubborn source of waste. New innovations in recycling aim to reduce e-waste around Berkeley.
Scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, or LBNL, are aiming to make battery production safer and more equitable by reducing costs, and recycling service Ridwell is helping Berkeley residents recycle these pollutants in addition to items such as plastic film, lightbulbs and styrofoam.
“Just because something is not recyclable in more traditional ways does not mean that it can’t be,” said Ryan Metzger, CEO and co-founder of Ridwell, in an email.
Ridwell aims to pick up reusable and hard to recycle items that are not a part of traditional curbside recycling.
According to Metzger, battery recycling is important because the metals and chemicals inside can be recovered and used in the production of new goods. These same materials, if left in landfills, would cause long-lasting damage to the environment and nearby communities.
“In terms of safety, chemicals can be released if not properly handled that run the risk of getting into soil and groundwater,” Metzger said in an email. “Batteries also can catch fire if not handled properly.”
Current methods of battery recycling can be costly and energy-intensive, and can also lead to the release of toxic chemicals, according to an LBNL press release. At LBNL, a team of scientists has developed a way for batteries to be recycled that requires less energy and money, creating a new material called Quick-Release Binder that can be incorporated into the architecture of the battery to make it easier to recycle in the future.
According to Gao Liu, the project’s leader at LBNL, the Quick-Release Binder’s ability to be dissolved in high pH water allows for the battery’s electrode materials to be recovered for recycling by simply placing it in room temperature alkaline water.
“Our invention is a new class of polymer binder that can change its solubility with pH of the water,” Liu said in an email. “The lithium ion battery made with this binder can be easily recycled by exposing the electrodes to a basic water, then collecting the ceramic particles.”
Liu added that his team’s process is a more environmentally-friendly method of battery recycling, requiring less energy and creating a smaller environmental footprint.
The Quick-Release Binder was recognized as one of the top 100 revolutionary technologies developed in 2022 by the R&D 100 Awards, according to the press release.
It is now in the process of being developed and verified on a large scale. According to the press release, the team is now working with battery recycling developer Steven Sloop to bring the binder to the market.
“The binder has a great feature that it can be ‘un-zipped’ with low-cost, environmentally benign processing, which benefits us all by improving the economic and environmental sustainability of advanced battery systems,” Sloop said in the press release.
The press release stated that Liu’s team believes the material can be used in batteries of all sizes, from cell phones to those that store back-up energy in the nation’s electric grids.
Liu added that while the product is undergoing further testing, he anticipates a two to five year timeline before the binder is commercially available.
“There are no limitations on how we can apply this new materials/process to battery manufacturing,” Liu said in an email.