Former SAIT students develop sustainable method for accessing key ingredient of lithium-ion batteries
16, Nov, 2021
EDMONTON, Nov. 16, 2021 – As the world moves away from fossil fuel dependence, the availability of cobalt, a principal component in lithium-ion batteries, is more critical than ever. A former team of SAIT chemical laboratory technology students has been honoured at the provincial level for innovating a new technique for extracting cobalt from its source materials that is efficient, affordable and sustainable.
The former team of Norman Lee, Parveer Singh and Kaevin Heffernan has been recognized as one of seven finalists for the Association of Science and Engineering Technology Professionals of Alberta’s (ASET) Capstone Project of the Year Award.
First developed in the 1970s, lithium-ion batteries now power everything from iPhones to medical devices to cars to planes to the International Space Station. Their usage accounts for about 50 per cent of the cobalt produced globally. Easy, cost-effective access to cobalt will be crucial in the battle against climate change. However, it doesn’t exist anywhere in a pure state and is instead dispersed with other metals, which is why it must be extracted.
Instead of using pyrometallurgy (an energy-intensive process also referred to as roasting) as a means of extraction, the former SAIT team focused on hydrometallurgy, working with an aqueous solution to extract cobalt. While liquid extraction of cobalt is not new, the former SAIT team developed a method that utilizes a different chemistry and is capable of producing a higher yield of extracted cobalt.
“With our method, the extraction is done at room temperature and the liquid used can be regenerated and reused,” said Lee. “In addition, we are using miniscule amounts of chemical in the liquid. Therefore, we are limiting the amount of waste produced and pollution emitted from burning fossil fuels to heat things up. All of this contributes to reducing costs and negative impacts on the environment, and improving efficiency.”
“A lot of us may not think about what goes into the making of lithium-ion batteries that have become so important to modern life, but these former SAIT students did,” said ASET CEO Barry Cavanaugh. “They also thought about the implications for the environment, economy, and the public interest overall. Their project is an unassuming idea with a potentially big reach.”
The former SAIT team’s project is one of seven finalists named by ASET for the Capstone Project of the Year Award. The winning project will be announced later this year.
In addition to handing out the Capstone Project of the Year Award to deserving engineering technology students, the ASET Education and Scholarship Foundation provides scholarships, bursaries and educational funding to enhance and support the education of students pursuing engineering technology studies.
ASET is the professional self-regulatory organization for engineering technologists and technicians in Alberta. ASET currently represents over 16,000 members, including full-time technology students, recent graduates and fully certified members in 21 disciplines and more than 120 occupations across a multitude of industries.
Michele Penz, Calico Communications for ASET