The introduction of lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries has led to major advances in consumer goods across nearly all sectors. Battery-powered devices have become ubiquitous across the world. This rapid growth has led directly to several key environmental issues surrounding the use of Li-ion batteries. Only a small percentage of current Li-ion batteries is recycled, increasing the demand for cobalt and other strategic elements.
Researchers have created a new battery technology platform that could lead to battery production moving away from cobalt. The metal-free battery technology utilizes a polypeptide organic radical construction. By moving away from lithium and working with polypeptides — components of proteins — the need for mining precious metals is eliminated. New opportunities are provided to power wearable or implantable electronic devices and easily recycle the new batteries.
The all-polypeptide organic radical battery composed of redox-active amino acid macromolecules also solves the problem of recyclability. The components of the new battery platform can be degraded on demand in acidic conditions to generate amino acids, other building blocks, and degradation products.
Li-ion batteries are not recycled to the degree that will be necessary for the future electrified transportation economy. There is valuable material in the Li-ion battery but it is very difficult and energy-intensive to recover.
As a next step, the researchers have begun working to utilize machine learning to optimize the materials and structure of the battery platform.