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Research team develops new material that could help revive lithium-ion batteries — here's how spent batteries could get second chance

"These results serve as a crucial reminder of the nuanced balance."

"These results serve as a crucial reminder of the nuanced balance."

Photo Credit: iStock

Overworked lithium-ion batteries that power drones now have a stress management plan and a retirement option thanks to researchers who published their findings with the American Chemical Society. 

It's part of an analysis of how lithium-ion battery strain in electric flying machines shortens their lifespans. The experiment also highlighted why the lithium packs may not be suited for long-term, high-stress use, particularly in regard to heavy-duty drones that carry cargo. 

During a test, experts Ilias Belharouak, Marm Dixit, and others pushed a set of battery cells with a specially made electrolyte to the limit. In lithium-ion batteries, ions move between the electrodes in a substance called electrolyte. This version was made to power up and down quickly. 

According to a lab summary, they "drained 15 times the battery's optimal capacity, the total amount of energy it could store, for 45 seconds." 

The simulated rapid discharge of energy was similar to what would be needed for a vertical takeoff. The cells didn't get a chance to rest, because the experts then drained them even more at typical rates, followed by a recharge cycle. 

"The team found that none of the tested cells lasted more than 100 cycles under these high-stress conditions, with most starting to show decreased performance around 85 cycles," per the summary. 

The analysis provides a better understanding of battery requirements for vertical takeoff vehicles (eVTOLs), paving the way for more suitable innovations down the road, the team concludes

"We conducted extensive electrochemical testing to assess the long-term stability of a lithium-ion battery under these high-strain conditions," the researchers said in their report. 

A promising second life in energy storage, or even in hybrid-electric vehicles, was also discovered for the batteries. But the lab report notes that the infrastructure to ensure the packs can integrate into other systems would be needed. 

"Repurposing these batteries for low-rate applications presents a sustainable solution, aligning with environmental goals or they can be used for hybrid-electric propulsion systems where the discharge rates can be optimized not to deteriorate the battery materials," according to the summary

Energy storage is important as our electricity system incorporates more intermittent renewable power from the wind and sun into the grid. More than 20% of U.S. electricity is already generated by sustainable sources. The good news is that you don't have to live near a wind or solar farm or have equipment hooked up to your house, to take advantage of the cleaner power and associated savings. 

Community solar programs let you tap into clean energy without much hassle. A little research online could help you cut 15% off your power bill while preventing thousands of pounds of pollution from harming the air. This move provides a healthier atmosphere for our lungs and minds, as planet-warming gases are linked to many health problems, including dementia

Perhaps stressed-out drone power packs will one day help deliver more clean electricity to your block as part of a unique second life

"These results serve as a crucial reminder of the nuanced balance between eVTOL power requirements, battery lifespan, and the potential for repurposing," the experts wrote

The research was completed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee with funding from the United States Army. 

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