Researchers Look to Eliminate Metals in Batteries

July 24, 2021 by Ahmad Ezzeddine

Researchers from Texas A&M University found a new battery technology that could help in improving battery recycling.

Li-ion batteries can be found in many electronics. With widespread use comes the heavy use of cobalt and other metals. These metals, however, can be difficult to recycle, causing an increase in demand for more metals and lessening the ability to retire and recycle Li-Ion batteries.

Graphic Presentation of metal-free recyclable polypeptide battery. Image courtesy of Texas A&M Engineering

A New Way to Produce Batteries

The research for a new form of battery is outlined by researchers from Texas A&M University with the efforts of researchers from different academic disciplines: 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.

The group’s research aims to eliminate the need for cobalt in Li-Ion batteries, by producing batteries through a battery technology platform that is completely metal-free. This battery technology platform utilizes a polypeptide organic radical construction.

“By moving away from lithium and working with these polypeptides, which are components of proteins, it 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,” Wooley said. “They [polypeptide batteries] are degradable, they are recyclable, they are non-toxic and they are safer across the board.”

The all-polypeptide organic radical battery which is composed of redox-active amino-acid polypeptides is designed to contain amide links in the backbone and ester links in the side chains, which are prone to degradation in enzymatic, basic, and acidic conditions.

The researchers used high-resolution electrospray ionization mass spectrometry to identify the degradation species. Then they used liquid chromatography to separate degradation products of the redox-active polypeptides.

“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,” Lutkenhaus said. “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.”


Future Research

The road toward a sustainable and green world is going through a new step with this research where having a metal-free, organic battery that could degrade on demand is an improvement toward sustainability.

A 2020 Texas A&M Triads for Transformation (T3) grant was issued for research that optimizes the materials and structure of the battery using machine learning.

This work was financially supported by the National Science Foundation, the Welch Foundation, and the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science.