Lei Pan's team of chemical engineering students had worked long and hard on their research project, and they were happy just to be showing their results at the People, Prosperity and the Planet (P3) competition last April in Washington, DC. What they didn't expect was to be mobbed by enthusiastic onlookers.
"We got a lot of 'oh wow!' responses, from eight-year-olds wanting to know how it worked to EPA officials wondering why no one had done this before," says senior Zachary Oldenburg. "My response to the EPA was, 'Because no one else had a project leader who's a mining engineer.'"
Pan, an assistant professor of chemical engineering at Michigan Technological University, earned his graduate degrees in mining engineering. It was his idea to adapt 20th century mining technology to recycle lithium ion batteries, from the small ones in cell phones to the multi-kilowatt models that power electric cars. Pan figured the same technologies used to separate metal from ore could be applied to spent batteries. So he gave his students a crash course in basic minerals processing methods and set them loose in the lab.
"My mind goes back to the beginning, when nothing was working," says Trevyn Payne, a chemical engineering senior. "A lot of times it was, honestly, 'Let's just try this.' Sometimes when things worked out, it was kind of an accident."
Oldenburg provides an example. "We were trying all kinds of solvents to liberate chemicals, and after hours and hours, we found out that plain water worked the best."
But eventually, everything came together. "You can see your results improve experiment by experiment," explains doctoral student Ruiting Zhan. "That's pretty good. It gives you a sense of achievement."
The team used mining industry technologies to separate everything in the battery: the casing, metal foils and coatings for the anode and cathode, which includes lithium metal oxide, the most valuable part. The components can be returned to the manufacturer and re-made into new batteries.
"The biggest advantage of our process is that it's inexpensive and energy efficient." Ruitang Zhan
"For the purpose of remanufacturing, our recycled materials are as good as virgin materials, and they are cheaper," Oldenburg adds.
The fact that their process is tried and true is perhaps its most attractive quality to industry, Pan notes. "We saw the opportunity to use an existing technology to address emerging challenges," he says. "We use standard gravity separations to separate copper from aluminum, and we use froth flotation to recover critical materials, including graphite, lithium and cobalt. These mining technologies are the cheapest available, and the infrastructure to implement them already exists."
Passers-by weren't the only ones at the P3 competition impressed by the students' effort. AIChE's (the American Institute of Chemical Engineers) Youth Council on Sustainable Science and Technology (YCOSST) has announced it will be presenting the team its YCOSST P3 Award, which recognizes the project "that best employs sustainable practices, interdisciplinary collaborations, engineering principles and youth involvement, and whose design is simple enough to have a sustainable impact without requiring significant technical expertise of its users."
The team members, including Oldenburg, Payne, Zhan and undergraduate Lucille Nunneley, will be given the award in October, at the AIChE annual meeting in Pittsburgh, where they will also present their results. The award includes $1,000 to help cover student travel costs.
To advance their research, Pan has received funding from the Michigan Technological University Translational Research and Commercialization (MTRAC) statewide Innovation Hub.
The project was funded by a $15,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency and an article on their work, "Recovery of Active Cathode Materials from Lithium-Ion Batteries Using Froth Flotation," authored by Pan, Zhan and Oldenburg, was published online June 15 in Sustainable Materials and Technologies.
Allison Mills | EurekAlert!
Scientists' design discovery doubles conductivity of indium oxide transparent coatings
18.09.2019 | University of Liverpool
Heat shields for economical aircrafts
18.09.2019 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Werkstoff- und Strahltechnik IWS
How long the battery of your phone or computer lasts depends on how many lithium ions can be stored in the battery's negative electrode material. If the battery runs out of these ions, it can't generate an electrical current to run a device and ultimately fails.
Materials with a higher lithium ion storage capacity are either too heavy or the wrong shape to replace graphite, the electrode material currently used in...
To process information, photons must interact. However, these tiny packets of light want nothing to do with each other, each passing by without altering the...
Researchers from the Department of Atomically Resolved Dynamics of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg, the University of Hamburg and the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) outstation in the city have developed a new method to watch biomolecules at work. This method dramatically simplifies starting enzymatic reactions by mixing a cocktail of small amounts of liquids with protein crystals. Determination of the protein structures at different times after mixing can be assembled into a time-lapse sequence that shows the molecular foundations of biology.
The functions of biomolecules are determined by their motions and structural changes. Yet it is a formidable challenge to understand these dynamic motions.
At the International Symposium on Automotive Lighting 2019 (ISAL) in Darmstadt from September 23 to 25, 2019, the Fraunhofer Institute for Organic Electronics, Electron Beam and Plasma Technology FEP, a provider of research and development services in the field of organic electronics, will present OLED light strips of any length with additional functionalities for the first time at booth no. 37.
Almost everyone is familiar with light strips for interior design. LED strips are available by the metre in DIY stores around the corner and are just as often...
Later during this century, around 2060, a paradigm shift in global energy consumption is expected: we will spend more energy for cooling than for heating....
19.09.2019 | Event News
10.09.2019 | Event News
04.09.2019 | Event News
20.09.2019 | Life Sciences
20.09.2019 | Life Sciences
20.09.2019 | Life Sciences