Rust-Busting Invention Brings Us Closer to Long-Life Mobile Phone Batteries

Instead of disposing of batteries after two or three years, we could have recyclable batteries that last up to nine years, by using high-frequency sound waves to remove rust that hinders battery performance, which says the team.

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

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

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

Leslie Yeo, Distinguished Professor of Chemical Engineering and senior lead researcher, said that MXene was similar to graphene with high electrical conductivity.

“Unlike graphene, MXenes are highly customizable and will open up a whole range of possible future technological applications,” said Yeo from RMIT’s School of Engineering.

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The major challenge in using MXene was that it corroded easily, blocking electrical conductivity and making it unusable, he said.

“To overcome this challenge, we discovered that sound waves at certain frequencies remove rust from MXene, restoring it close to its original state,” said Yeo.

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

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

The research is published in Nature Communications.

How innovation works

Co-author Mr. Hossein Alijani, a PhD candidate, said that the biggest challenge in using MXene was the rust that formed on its surface in a humid environment or when it was suspended in aqueous solutions.

“Surface oxide, which is rust, is particularly difficult to remove on this material, which is much thinner than a human hair,” said Alijani from RMIT’s School of Engineering.

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“The current methods used to reduce oxidation depend on the chemical coating of the material, which limits the use of the MXene in its native form.

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“In this work, we show that exposing an oxidized MXene film to high-frequency vibration for a minute removes the rust from the film. This simple procedure allows to recover its electrical and electrochemical performance.”

Possible functions of the team’s work

The team says their work to remove rust from MXene opens the door for the nanomaterial to be used in a wide range of applications in energy storage, sensors, wireless transmission and environmental remediation.

Associate Professor Amgad Rezk, one of the lead senior researchers, said the ability to quickly return oxidized materials to an almost non-stop state represents the circular economy.

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“Materials used in electronics, including batteries, tend to deteriorate after two to three years of use due to rust formation,” said Rezk from RMIT’s School of Engineering.

“With our method, we can extend the life of the battery components by up to three times.”

The next steps

While the innovation is promising, the team needs to work with industry to integrate its audio device into existing manufacturing systems and processes.

The team is also exploring the use of their invention to remove oxide layers from other materials for sensing and renewable energy applications.

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

Reference: Ahmed H, Alijani H, El-Ghazaly A, et al. Recovery of oxidized two-dimensional MXenes by high-frequency nanoscale electromechanical vibrations. Society Nat. 2023; 14(1):3. doi:10.1038/s41467-022-34699-3

This article was republished from the following materials. Note: content may have been edited for length and content. For more information, contact the source cited.

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