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closeup of hands putting batteries into recycling

Recycling for a better future

By Srila Nayak

Responsibly recycling batteries

Chemistry alumnus Steven Sloop (Ph.D., '96) is at the forefront of global efforts to invent and commercialize a clean battery recycling technology: he developed a "direct recovery method’’ to recycle material from commonly used lithium-ion batteries in an inexpensive and environmentally harmless operation that ensures battery materials aren’t wasted and recovered materials are in a battery-ready state for reuse.

The international scientific journal Nature hailed Sloop’s innovation as one of the most energy efficient and promising battery recycling technologies in the world.

Steven Sloop in front of bricks

Chemistry Alumnus Steven Sloop (image courtesy of Willamette University)

While at OSU, Sloop experimented with topotactic transformations, a process in which the chemical composition of materials change while retaining some original structural elements. Those experiments influenced Sloop, who is now the president of OnTo Technology, a research and development company in Bend, Oregon, devoted to cutting edge innovations in recycling batteries.

“I learned a way of thinking about materials at OSU and I have applied that knowledge to battery recycling,” says Sloop, whose advisor was chemistry professor Michael Lerner. “It was basic creative chemistry where one learns about synthesizing nanocomposite materials and keeping base structures intact during experiments.”

After completing his doctoral studies, Sloop taught at Willamette University for 2 years before pursuing a postdoctoral fellowship at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. It was at Berkeley Lab that Sloop stumbled across the problem of the limited life-cycle of Lithium-ion batteries and it set him up to do what he is doing.

When Sloop encountered the issue of recycling wasted battery material as a postdoc, he remembers thinking it was "a dirty garbage business." Sloop would soon change his mind. "After two weeks of pondering over why Lithium-ion batteries fail I thought it was a great problem to solve. Now I find it bizarre that this area of research is underappreciated."

Sloop holds a number of patents on different methods of recycling energy-storage devices, electrode materials and processing end-of-life batteries. Over the years, OnTo has received various grants from federal and state organizations for research, including funding from Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute (ONAMI). Currently, Sloop and his collaborators are working toward commercializing the direct recovery method while conducting research to fine tune the scale and design of the process.