Did you know that lithium is the lightest metal that’s also dense?
That makes it the perfect ingredient for a rechargeable battery.
Lithium has become popular in batteries due to its low atomic number and high charge density.
But lithium’s uses aren’t just for a household AA battery; it’s also used in more common devices.
Have you ever wondered what lithium is and what can be done with it if it can be recycled?
Well, we’re going to answer these questions and more.
What Is Lithium?
Lithium is a soft, silver-white metal that is highly reactive.
It’s the lightest of all metals and has the lowest density.
Lithium is used in many different applications.
It is used in batteries to store energy, it’s used in glass to make it more transparent, and it’s also used as a lubricant to keep elements from sticking together.
Uses of Lithium
Lithium is used in many different applications because it has such a wide range of properties:
Batteries: Lithium batteries are used in cell phones, laptops, and other electronics because they are lighter than other batteries and can hold more power per unit volume than any other rechargeable battery type.
Aircraft engines: Lithium is an additive to turbine fuel because it improves combustion efficiency and reduces emissions from turbine engines that use kerosene fuels like JP8 or JP4 jet fuel.
It also increases the stability of airplane engines operating at high altitudes where there’s less oxygen available for combustion.
Pigments: Lithium chromate is used in paints to make reds brighter than other pigments.
In fact, it’s been called “the pigment of kings” because it was used extensively by European royalty during the Renaissance era to decorate their palaces with bright red walls and ceilings that dazzled.
Types of Recyclable Lithium Batteries
There are two main recyclable lithium batteries: lithium-ion batteries and lithium metal cells (also known as secondary batteries).
The most common type of battery used in electronics today is lithium-ion because it has a high energy density and can be recharged repeatedly without losing capacity over time.
Lithium metal cells are similar to lead acid batteries but use fewer metals and have higher energy densities than lead acid batteries.
How to Recycle Lithium Batteries
Lithium-ion batteries can be recycled in several ways.
The first method involves disassembling the battery and separating each component for recycling.
This process can be dangerous because it often involves using hydrochloric acid to remove components from the battery case.
A safer method involves crushing the battery into small pieces with a hammer before melting it down with an electric furnace called an induction furnace.
Another way to recycle lithium-ion batteries is by using pyrolysis, which breaks down plastic into oil which can be used as fuel or to make more plastic products.
Impact of Lithium Batteries On The Environment
Here are some of the reasons why recycling lithium-based products are so difficult:
Toxic To Humans When Broken Down or Damaged
Lithium batteries contain an electrolyte solution that can be toxic if ingested or absorbed through the skin.
Since these batteries are often damaged during recycling, it’s essential to handle them carefully to avoid exposure to this poisonous substance.
In some cases, you can even get sick just by touching a damaged battery!
Heavy Metals They Contain Are Environmental Hazard
Lithium batteries contain heavy metals such as cobalt, copper, nickel, manganese, and lithium.
These metals can be toxic to humans if released into waterways or soil through improper disposal methods.
For example, when broken down or damaged, lithium batteries can release toxic gases such as hydrogen fluoride, which are corrosive to the skin and eyes.
Potential Fire Hazard
Lithium-ion batteries can catch fire if overcharged, damaged, or exposed to extreme temperatures or pressure.
If you use them in your car or electronic devices (such as laptops), ensure you don’t leave them enclosed when charging them.
Use common sense — don’t leave them unattended, and don’t try to charge them overnight if you won’t be around to check on them.
Can Contaminate Groundwater
It can contaminate groundwater if not disposed of properly.
The main source of contamination comes from improper disposal of dead batteries (end-of-life).
If these batteries are thrown in the trash, they can leak toxic chemicals into the ground and contaminate drinking water supplies.
This scenario has been seen in Nevada, where lithium batteries were tossed into an old mine shaft filled with water from wells adjacent to it.
The well water became contaminated with lithium from leaking batteries and had to be shut down until it could be cleaned up.
Frequently Asked Questions
How to Tell If Your Li-ion Battery is Bad/Damaged?
If your device is not charging or holding a charge, the battery may be the culprit.
In this case, the first step is to determine if the battery is bad or if there are other issues with your device.
To do this, you can take a multimeter and check the voltage of each cell in your battery pack.
If one cell reads lower than the rest, then it’s likely that this cell has failed and needs to be replaced.
If all cells read within range, then you may have a different issue that is causing your device not to charge properly.
Is Lithium Biodegradable?
Lithium is not biodegradable; however, when it is exposed to water, it can react with water and produce lithium hydroxide.
This reaction is known as hydrolysis.
The process of hydrolysis breaks up the bonds between atoms in the compound and releases hydrogen ions into solution (H+).
The hydrogen ions can then react with other compounds, such as carbonates and bicarbonates (RCO3– or HCO3–), to form carbonic acid (H2CO3).
Carbonic acid is unstable and decomposes into water (HO) and CO2 gas.
How Does Lithium Work In Batteries?
Lithium-ion batteries have a higher energy density than other rechargeable batteries.
They also have no “memory effect,” — meaning you can charge them without losing capacity over time.
However, lithium-ion batteries have some downsides: They tend to be expensive, can overheat, and don’t work well below zero degrees Celsius (32 F).
The environment is constantly changing, and so are the methods it affects us.
There we can always change for the better.
Doing our part to help our environment is a good thing; with technology, we can do much more than what we are currently doing.
Something as simple as recycling lithium batteries can significantly impact the environment and the technology we use in our everyday lives.