A step closer to recyclable mobile phone batteries

Mobile phone batteries that last up to three times longer than current technology could become a reality thanks to a new innovation by RMIT University engineers.

According to the RMIT team, instead of throwing away batteries after two or three years, recyclable batteries can last up to nine years by using high-frequency sound waves to remove rust that interferes with the battery’s performance.

Only 10 per cent of used handheld batteries, including mobile phones, are collected for recycling in Australia, which is low by international standards. The remaining 90 percent of batteries end up in landfills or are improperly disposed of, causing significant damage to the environment.

The high cost of recycling lithium and other materials from batteries is a major barrier to reusing these cells, but the team’s innovation could help solve this challenge.

The team is working with a nanomaterial called MXene, a class of materials that they say promises to be an interesting alternative to lithium for batteries in the future.

Leslie Yeo, distinguished professor of chemical engineering and principal investigator, said that MXene was similar to graphene in its high electrical conductivity.

“Unlike graphene, MXenes are highly adaptable and open up many potential technological applications in the future,” said Yeo. A big challenge with MXene was that it corroded easily, inhibiting electrical conductivity and rendering it unusable, he said.

“To overcome this challenge, we discovered that sound waves at a certain frequency remove the rust from MXene and restore it to a near-original state,” added Yeo.

The team’s innovation could one day help revive MXene batteries every few years, extending their lifespan by up to three times, he said.

“The ability to extend the shelf life of MXene is critical to ensuring that it is used for commercially viable electronic parts,” said Yeo.

The study was published in Nature communications.

Available programs

The team says their work to remove rust from MXene opens the door to nanomaterials with potential applications in energy storage, sensors, wireless transmission, and environmental remediation.

Associate Professor Amgad Rezkas, one of the lead senior researchers, said the ability to quickly restore oxidized materials to a near-pristine state is a game changer for the circular economy.

Further steps

While the innovation is promising, the team needs to work with industry to integrate their acoustic device into existing manufacturing systems and processes. The team is also investigating the use of their invention to remove oxide layers from other materials for sensing and renewable energy applications.

“We want to collaborate with industry partners so that our rust removal method can be scaled up,” Yeo said.

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