- Team of researchers from Texas and A&M university develop breakthrough to substitute lithium-ion batteries for a sustainable approach
- These researchers developed a new battery technology platform that utilizes polypeptide organic radical construction
- The organic radical battery is composed of redox-active amino-acid macromolecules to solve the problem of recyclability
Free of Metal
In the current generation, humans are completely surrounded by technology. This everyday-technology is operated by lithium-ion batteries which are incorporated within every gadget and electronic device, starting from laptops to wrist watches. Although these batteries are powerful and light-weight, they can cause serious environmental complications and are barely recycled. The chemical compounds and materials found inside the lithium-ion batteries are hazardous and these valuable materials cannot be recovered for reuse.
Lithium-ion batteries have simplified everyday chores of life by powering numerous electronic devices and gadgets. A significant amount of cobalt is utilized to prepare these batteries. Cobalt mining has contributed to dangerous cases of child labour that has been well documented on international levels. Additionally, only a very small percentage of Li-ion batteries are recycled, increasing the demand for cobalt and other strategic elements.
To counter and address the issue, researchers have come up with the idea of batteries —with properties similar to that of the lithium-ion batteries — that can be easily recycled and would refrain from the use of cobalt.
The Scientific Breakthrough
Researchers from Texas and A&M University have made a breakthrough in theorizing battery production that would not constitute cobalt as one of the main constituents. In an article published under the May issue of Nature, the researchers outlined their development of a new battery technology platform that is free of metal. This new battery technology platform utilizes a polypeptide organic radical construction.
The research team wanted to develop a battery that would be lightweight and powerful, like lithium-ion batteries, but that would be more easily recyclable. To achieve this, they built electrodes, which transfer electrical charges in and out of a battery, with degradable polymers instead of metals.
Recyclable Li-ion Batteries
The all-polypeptide organic radical battery is composed of redox-active amino-acid macromolecules. This ensures that the chemical constituents solve the problem of recyclability. According to Lutkenhaus, one of the research members, the components of the new battery platform can be degraded on demand under acidic conditions to generate amino acids, other building blocks and degradation products — one of the major breakthroughs in this research.
He further added, “The big problem with lithium-ion batteries right now is that they’re not recycled to the degree that we are going to need for the future electrified transportation economy.The rate of recycling lithium-ion batteries right now is in the single digits. There is valuable material in the lithium-ion battery, but it’s very difficult and energy intensive to recover.”
The latest and breakthrough development of a metal-free and free of chemically hazardous constituents marks a significant approach towards sustainable, recyclable batteries that reduce the dependency on strategic materials like cobalt.
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The team of researchers
The multidisciplinary team of researchers included Dr. Jodie Lutkenhaus, Axalta Coating Systems Chair and professor in the Artie McFerrin Department of Chemical Engineering, and Dr. Karen Wooley, distinguished professor in the Department of Chemistry and holder of the W.T. Doherty-Welch Chair in Chemistry in the College of Science from the Texas and A&M university.
According to Wooley who has been recently honoured as the 2021 SEC Professor of the Year, “By moving away from lithium and working with these polypeptides, which are components of proteins, it really takes us into this realm of not only avoiding the need for mining precious metals, but opening opportunities to power wearable or implantable electronic devices and also to easily recycle the new batteries. They (polypeptide batteries) are degradable, they are recyclable, they are non-toxic and they are safer across the board.”
Moreover, Wooley and Lutkenhaus have begun working in collaboration with Dr. Daniel Tabor, assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry, through a 2020 Texas A&M Triads for Transformation (T3) grant that aims to utilize machine learning to optimize the materials and structure of the battery platform.
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