In the recycling world, it seems like as soon as one problem is solved, another one turns up. The introduction of high-density lithium-ion batteries have made it possible to store solar energy more efficiently and to power electric cars. We use lithium-ion batteries in our mobile phones and laptop computers. From hand-held surgical tools to cordless power tools, lithium-ion batteries are providing long-lasting, efficient energy in ways that benefit the world and the environment.

But there’s a catch.

Despite the fact that lithium is fully recyclable and reusable, it’s not being recycled — leaving us once again dependent on a few countries for energy resources (in this case, Argentina, Bolivia and Chile) and adding to the world’s ever-increasing collection of e-waste.

So why aren’t we recycling our lithium? The simple answer is, it’s just not worth the effort. The lithium recycling process is highly toxic, complex and energy intensive, making the cost of recycled lithium about five times higher than the cost of virgin mined lithium and sending environmental researchers back to the drawing board once again.

Ground-breaking innovation from Sweden

Researchers at the University of Uppsala in Sweden are taking the lithium-ion puzzle seriously — and they’ve come up with a potentially game changing solution to that puzzle. Their remarkable solution delivers a lithium-ion battery that is completely recyclable using a simple process and environmentally friendly solvents including ethanol and water.

This experimental battery is housed in components made of completely organic material composed from alfalfa seed and pine resin. When these batteries are recycled, about 99% of the original lithium can be recovered, making the process a nearly closed circle. And in tests, batteries made from the recycling process supply as much as 99% of the energy provided by current lithium-ion batteries.

A clear set of benefits

The out-of-the-box thinking of these Swedish researchers has the potential to revolutionize both production and recycling of lithium-ion batteries, with a number of clear benefits to business, to consumers and to the environment:

  • It makes lithium recycling easier, cleaner and economically feasible;
  • It releases nations from dependence on the few countries where lithium is mined;
  • Using inexpensive, readily-available biomaterials could make batteries less costly to consumers; and
  • Less toxics in battery creation and recycling helps maintain a cleaner environment.

With demand for mobile devices and smartphones on the rise and the development of electric-powered cars becoming a reality, the need for efficient, environmentally safe batteries is ever increasing. In fact, economists predict that production and sales of lithium-ion batteries will grow as much as 400% over the next six years.

By creating a lithium-ion battery from organic biomaterials, the scientists at the University of Uppsala have made it possible to meet our energy needs more safely and less expensively — and to that, we say “Skoal!”