back to article Battery recycling boosted by dentist-style ultrasonics, if manufacturers can cooperate

Boffins have laid claim to a "ground-breaking invention" which they say will make it considerably easier to recycle batteries from electric vehicles, laptops, and the like – an ultrasonic delaminator. Electric vehicles may come with impressive green credentials, at least while they're being driven, but as any laptop owner …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Lead acid should die

    Isn't it time lead acid batteries were killed for good? LiFePo4 is a practical drop in replacement for them, same charge profile, built in BMS, lifetime is vastly increased, lighter, more reliable, deeper cycle, so lower capacity needed for the same task, lower internal discharge, so longer shelf life if not charged.

    So why the f**k is lead-acid still a thing?

    I just had yet another UPS lead acid battery die on me, a two year lifespan is just not enough. A bit of searching and I find you can buy drop in Lithium LiFePo4 battery replacements for UPS batteries , same size, compatible charge profile, and it was slightly cheaper than the replacement lead acid too. 2000-4000 cycle lifetime to 80% capacity. So 10 years plus, to reach a capacity that the lead-acid had when it was new.

    Drop in replacements for motorcycle and car batteries too, again LiFePo4, again with a built in BMS to protect it from the starter motor surge.

    They have mini-UPS's now, little 12v, 5v 9v lithium UPS units you plug inbetween a router or device and its power block..... dirt cheap because its not doing any major AC to DC to AC conversion. LiFePo4 again. No lead acid.

    If you have a UPS, slap a higher capacity LiFePo4 in, and you've got mobile mains power.... a "solar generator" without the MPPT charge controller, but then who actually charges those things from solar anyway.

    Die already lead-acid, I will not miss you, die already!

    1. Gene Cash Silver badge

      Re: Lead acid should die

      Well, I have a Shorai lithium iron phosphate battery in my 14 year old FJR-1300.

      It's got far better storage characteristics, and has no problem sitting 3 weeks. The only slight downside is that it doesn't like the cold. So if it's cold, it sometimes takes 2 tries to start.

      You didn't mention it's a lot lighter. It feels like an empty battery case.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Lead acid should die

        Yeh, but the charge damage failure at -5 degrees C (?) is prevented by the temperature sensor in the BMS.... and also lead acid power drops to 50% at 0 celsius, so I don't view that as a fail point when comparing it against lead acid.... Lead acid sucks at low temps too!

        For the car I really want Lithium *Titanate*, it has the vastly superior stability, and even deeper power cycling. LiFePo4 would be fine for the car, but once I found out about Lithium Titanate, I suddenly want that instead.... knowing if I buy LiFePo4 now, I will have it for a decade or two before having an excuse to replace it!

        If I hadn't read up on Lithium Titanate, then I'd install Phosphate now. As it is, its only in the motorbikes and the UPS's, the motorcycle because I leave them at home(s), and when I come back they need a new battery. That was a PITA, and UPS's because I need to know that if the power goes down, the battery will actually work!

        [added] I see FJR-1300 is a motorcycle.

    2. Red Ted

      Re: Lead acid should die

      The short answer is the Lead-Acid batteries are simple to make and relatively easy to recycle.

      A lithium battery is significantly more expensive than the equivalent lead acid.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Lead acid should die

        They need to be replaced 10 times as often, so any saved labor cost is wiped out by the cost of replacing them, over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again. Same for recycling, any "easier to recycle" benefit.. well are they 10x easier to recycle? Nah, do all ten people even take them to the recycling? Nah.

        It's also not true, I can see from the price label on the lead acid, I paid 960 baht for it, the new LiFePo4 one cost 880 baht. Any cost benefit doesn't make its way through the retail chain.

        Lets not forget that its 960*10 vs 880!

        I wouldn't even have bought it, if I hadn't happen to stumble upon a solar guy's channel where he made one to fix a UPS and I wondered if he couldn't simply have bought one ready made.... sure enough you can and they're made precisely as UPS drop in replacements.

        1. very angry man

          Re: Lead acid should die

          I love living and buying in Thailand there is so much less cash grab.

    3. DS999 Silver badge

      You must not live where it gets cold

      I wouldn't want to try to start a car with a LiFePo4 battery when it is -25C

      1. very angry man

        Re: You must not live where it gets cold

        then fu3KING MOVE!

      2. EricB123 Bronze badge

        Re: You must not live where it gets cold

        Or worse - try to start a diesel car! That blue light that says wait for the glow plugs to do their thing never goes off!

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This is BIG news

    If they can industrialise this (and keep the noise away) it's one of the most significant developments for batteries in quite some time. Recycling has always been a major problem, so if they have truly improved that it's a game changer.

    1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

      Re: This is news

      Recycling has always been a major problem

      But someone else's problem.

      It'll take industry cooperation to commercialise the system, sadly: the Faraday Institution notes that in order for the batteries to be disassembled ready for processing, they must first be designed for disassembly.

      There's the problem. So take a Tesla Model 3-

      The Standard Range version carries 2,976 cells arranged in 96 groups of 31. The Long Range version carries 4,416 cells arranged in 96 groups of 46, and weighs[185] 1,060 pounds (480 kg)

      And to paraphrase Mike Oldfield, they're tubular cells. So first extract battery packs from car, then extract batteries from packs, then extract chemicals from cells. All without your recycling plant self-combusting in a cloud of toxic flourine products.

      So although most products now do a spot of Greenwashing and make various claims about how sustainable they are, reality tends to be that the 'recycling' problem is usually offloaded to someone else. They've flogged you the product, they've got your money, and disposal might be down to whoever's got a recycling contract with your Council.

      So if manufacturers actually had to bear the full cost of recycling, rather than kicking the 4,416 metal cans down the road.. Then there may be some incentive to redesign products to make recycling cheaper or more efficient. That may take regulatory pressure, which would result in some financial difficulties, eg flog a Model 3 and book both the sale, but also a future liability for when it becomes end-of-life.

      Somehow, I suspect there'd be a lot of lobbying to keep this as someone else's problem to avoid those liabilities.

      AFAIK, Tesla's also going the opposite direction. Currently there's a bit of a market taking the battery packs from Teslas and re-purposing them. It's relatively easy to drop the pack, split out the bricks and do stuff with them. But there's also a trend to pack the batteries into more structural elements of the cars, making it harder to do that.. Which is a bit dfferent to the original vision of easily swappable battery packs for quick refuelling. And a handy benefit of building obsolecence into EVs, so drivers might want new ones every 3 years. Kinda problematic for resale values, but again, that's someone else's problem.

      1. Electronics'R'Us
        Thumb Up

        Re: This is news

        If the WEEE directive was properly enforced (might need amending) then the cost of recycling really would fall on the manufacturer.

        That said, this type of legislation would need to be passed in many countries for it to be meaningful.

        As it is, many companies buy insurance or have a deal with a (often shady) third party to make sure the paperwork is all in place.

        Said third party often goes out of business before any recycling is actually necessary; paperwork is all in order, so guess what happens.

        I agree that the way to get industry to 'cooperate' is to make sure the cost of recycling falls on them in a way that cannot be avoided.

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: This is news

          Or simply regulate to require easy recycling. If the constituents are sufficiently valuable and the products economically recyclable, preferably by an industry standard process then recycling becomes a business opportunity, it will happen; if not by the manufacturers themselves, then by third parties.

          1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

            Re: This is news

            That seems to be the real challenge, ie the push to recycle is one thing, but whether there's a market for the recyled stuff. So cost vs using 'virgin' materials. That seems to be a problem with paper waste, ie there's a limited market for it, and recycling yards have a habit of catching fire. Then again, I've also seen council laying block paving using crushed glass as a base layer.

            I don't know how current recycling schemes work, other than there appear to be some problems. I guess one way with vehicles is maybe to have a recycling liability. So manufacturers know what goes into producing a car. That kind of creates a scrap liability. Then I once had to get a certificate of destruction for a car. So I guess that could be linked to the liability, and the scrap value reduces it.

            That would incentivise manufactures, but I get the feeling it'd end up 'orribly complicated to track a car from delivery to destruction and transformation into a pile of ingots. But I think it'd incentivise producers to work with the recycling industry to balance the books.

            And in other news, my favorite mad chemist demonstrates how to recover cadmium from a NiCad battery. Pretty colors, but shows some of the challenges involved-


            And it also looks like Tesla's got their autonomous self-driving working on it's newest Plaid-


            Which is a bit curious. Presumably the driver made a swift and fortunate exit, but why the car kept going uphill. I'd have thought temperature sensors showing an oopsie, plus absence of driver would've made the vehicle stop and shut down.

            1. EnviableOne

              Re: This is news

              the issue is at the moment there is not a lot of closed-loop recycling (product A recycled to make more Product A) most recycling produces a lower quality raw material so they get downcycled, to a point where it then becomes useless to re-cycle.

              bottles get recycled to garden furniture which gets recycled to road material

              Tyres become playground surface

              until bottles become more bottles and tyres make more tyres, we are not really recycling and still need to make virgin materials.

        2. EricB123 Bronze badge

          Re: This is news

          A bit of a diversion here, bear with me. I was working at a government agency long ago when everyone got a 4 page memo (as in printed on paper). The forth page had nothing on it except "This document complies with the Paperwork Reduction Act of <forgot the year, sorry>".

          This kind of thinking is what we engineers are up against.

      2. hoola Silver badge

        Re: This is news

        I had seen that where there is a proposal to put all the batteries in a sort of layer under in a sandwich under the floor.

        Just imagine that going into one of those car crushers or shredders........

        As ever the "what to do at the end of the items life" is ignored or offshored. EV batteries urgently need standards on accessibility and recycling (not disposal) so that they can easily be extracted and then broken down into their component parts. Ideally there should be minimal residual waste. Now the intelligent thing to do will be to recycle at the place you construct the new batteries. That is unlikely to happen as it is cheaper and easier to ship the stuff for "recycling" to countries with cheap labour and poor environmental controls. The source of the recycling can then smugly tick a box stating that they are doing everything they can to recycle the waste without any concerns as to what is actually happening.

  3. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

    I'm disappointed that they didn't invent a sonic screwdriver to dismantle the batteries.

    Coat 'cause that's where I keep my screwdriver.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "[...] an adaption of a system currently in use in the food preparation industry."

    Is that a process for stripping every last fragment of flesh from bones?

    1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

      Is that a process for stripping every last fragment of flesh from bones?

      I think it's more to do with getting a patent. Descibing it as a method to utilise ultrasound to remove stuff from surfaces wouldn't exactly be novel. Royalties are at stake!


    What would be the effect of using the same ultrasonic frequency sound from further away wirh greater power? Can this be weaponised?

  6. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

    Are old plates still solid?

    I'd think that a battery maker would use plates that last no longer than the electrode surface. Anything more would be extra weight. I'd also expect battery technology to be making so many small and rapid changes that standardized recycling is difficult.

    Streamlining the chemical process is probably a better bet.

  7. adam 40 Silver badge

    Why is this a thing?

    If we are mining the Li ore here (sometime soon if not already), why not just chuck the used batteries in with the ore and let the refining process do the whole thing?

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "We've got a revolutionary new idea that will change the way we recycle batteries. But first for it to work we need everybody to change the way they make the batteries in the first place"

    ...I think i see a problem here.

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