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The future of battery recycling

By Chris Keenan

You wouldn’t be blamed for thinking that the name ‘Johnny B. Goodenough’ belonged to a Chuck Berry tribute band but it’s actually the name of a German-born American professor.  Professor Goodenough (a name one never tires of saying) is widely credited for the identification and development of the Li-ion rechargeable battery.  It’s important to note Lithium batteries were proposed by the British chemist, M Stanley Whittingham but Professor Goodenough brought them into the world and it’s fair to say without them companies like Tesla would not exist.


While on the subject of batteries, did you know nearly 3 billion dry-cell batteries of all shapes, sizes and types are purchased in the USA every year?  These are the sort of batteries that power radios, toys, cellular phones, watches, laptop computers, and portable power tools. It’s not all good news, according to the EPA those 3 billion batteries nearly all end up being thrown away.  That's about 180,000 tons of batteries, each year, in the trash.  No one really knows how many of these toxic little time bombs find their way into landfill sites but you can pretty much be assured it’s a lot. 


It is possible to recycle everything in a battery but it costs more money than can be recovered from reclaimed materials.  Plus, there’s only a scattering of companies that are capable of recycling 100% of the battery.  So, what’s the solution?


All the big money is investing into solid state batteries. Volkswagen has just invested 100 million into this tech. VW are not the only ones, in fact all the leading car manufacturers are investing into solid state batteries. It’s commonly believed that solid state batteries may well be the future of electric cars.  It’s estimated that a solid-state battery can carry 3 times the charge.  This gain would give things like electric cars a range of 500 to 600 miles on one charge.  Sounds good doesn’t it, but solid state batteries are still classified as e-waste, though it is a lot easier to recycle them.


Next up is the paper battery.  That’s right, batteries made of paper!  Sounds bonkers doesn’t it but it’s actually possible to make biodegradable batteries out of paper.  There’re a few different ways of doing it, but researchers at Binghamton University (well done New York) have created a biodegradable, paper-based battery that is more efficient than previously thought possible.  In fact, these paper batteries are so good, that we could be seeing them replace the AA & AAA batteries before too long.


Lastly, one of the most promising technologies is the 3D-printed Graphene Supercapacitor Electrodes. Graphene batteries charge five times faster, plus they can hold a spectacular amount of electricity. We are talking about enough electricity to power and charge a motor vehicle. Plus, it has an indefinite life cycle. You can keep recharging forever! Earning the nickname ‘supercaps’ these batteries are cheaper to produce, lighter, capable of taking massive charges in seconds. ‘Supercaps’ are also extremely durable which means they physically last longer than conventional batteries. The only downside is no one knows how easy they are to recycle just yet.  In all honesty, if they last for as long as they claim they do then maybe we’re going to have less to recycle.   Either way, it’s believed that combining ‘supercaps’ with solid state batteries in EV technology will give an electric car the power to charge up at a rate of 64 miles every 4 minutes and a range between 800 and 900 miles per charge.  You have to admit, that’s pretty cool.


So, whether its paper, solid state, or supercaps the future of battery recycling is looking pretty positive.  There is no question that as we move away from our dependency on fossil fuels the battery is going to play a bigger part in our day to day life.  Thanks to some fantastic innovations and global investments we wil all be moving towards a brighter, cleaner, battery powered future. 


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