Scientists make discovery that could act as ‘energy drink’ for aging vehicle batteries: ‘Very exciting news’

June 5, 2024 | by

While lithium batteries can be recharged many times, they do eventually lose their capacity to hold energy. But one group of researchers from Toyota Central R&D Labs in Japan has found a way to reverse that process and bring dead lithium batteries back to life, according to Interesting Engineering, which likened it to an “energy drink for your car’s battery.”

It works like this: In simple terms, standard lithium-based batteries lose their charging capacity because they lose particles called lithium ions over time. Researchers created a “recovery reagent,” a chemical they could inject into a worn-out battery to rejuvenate it. The recovery reagent starts a chemical reaction that restores the battery’s lithium ions, and soon the battery is good to go.

“The effectiveness of the system was verified not only with small-sized batteries for lab use but also with large batteries for automotive use,” Nobuhiro Ogihara, the study’s lead researcher, told Interesting Engineering.

Lithium batteries are the backbone of many electronic technologies, including electric vehicles. But they’re made with rare materials that are difficult to mine. Millions of dollars and countless hours have been spent on research to find ways to reuse spent lithium batteries, recycle them into new ones, or replace lithium with a new type of battery that uses more plentiful materials.

Recycling does have its benefits and will probably always be necessary as a long-term solution. But according to Interesting Engineering, this new process is able to restore up to 80% of a worn-out lithium battery’s lost capacity without taking it apart. That lengthens its useful life by an incredible amount, potentially saving owners and manufacturers a lot of money and reducing the need for new mines that damage the environment.

That’s not to say that every battery qualifies.

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“It’s only for batteries which have undergone a very specific form of degradation … and that is only useful if you know the history of the battery or can diagnose what state it is in through simple, non-destructive methods,” Jacqueline Edge, an expert on battery degradation at Imperial College London, told Interesting Engineering.

But it’s still a promising breakthrough. As Rafael Gómez-Bombarelli, a materials science and engineering professor at MIT, told Interesting Engineering, “Anything getting us closer to circularity in battery technology — in particular something that avoids disassembly and reassembly — is very exciting news.”

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