HAMNET Report 30th April 2023

I’m sure you will join me in being happy to hear that the French sailor who set off from Hout Bay Yacht Club in Cape Town early in March, has finally arrived safely in the French Caribbean, following seven weeks of solo sailing and no updates about his progress.

Sailing the yacht Akela II, Emmanuel Dailler, aged 56, left Hout Bay Yacht Club on 2nd March and was believed to be heading to Martinique Island. According to the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI), Dailler arrived on Sunday after having been reported missing earlier this month.

“He has informed his family that he is safe,” said NSRI spokesperson Craig Lambinon. The NSRI, together with SA maritime authorities, French authorities and the maritime community at large, had been waiting to hear news of Dailler’s progress.

“His wife and family [have] been informed by Mr Dailler of his safe arrival at his destination during the early hours of Sunday morning (SA time).”

The NSRI was relieved to hear that Dailler is safe and thanked all those involved in coordinating the search effort.

Lambinon added: “We urge all sailors to ensure that their safety equipment, such as EPIRBs [Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon], is up to date and in good working condition, as they can be life-saving in an emergency situation. Always have a number of communication devices to keep in communication when embarking on long voyages.”

Earlier this month, the yacht was reported missing by the NSRI. On 14 April, the NSRI said they were keeping a lookout for the sailing vessel as the yacht and Dailler may have been overdue.

Thanks to News24 for the summary of the situation.

From interestingengineering.com comes a report that a new NASA sound clip, released on April 17, offers an eerie glimpse into the strange and unsettling sounds that Earth’s magnetic field produces. The clip contains a series of high-pitched whistles, crunches, and whooshes that are created when waves of plasma from the sun interact with Earth’s magnetic field. This phenomenon causes the magnetic field lines to vibrate like the strings of a lute, which gives off a distinct and otherworldly sound.

The HARP project, which is responsible for creating the sound clip, is part of NASA’s Heliophysics Audified: Resonances in Plasmas or HARP initiative. This project aims to convert data about Earth’s magnetosphere into audible sounds to help researchers identify irregularities in the plasma shield. Citizen scientists can listen to these sounds and highlight any unusual patterns. This could lead to new discoveries about the magnetosphere and the sun.

Earth’s magnetosphere is a protective magnetic bubble surrounding our planet’s outer atmosphere, shielding us from harmful sun radiations and solar storms. It is an integral part of the space environment that surrounds our planet. Scientists can predict and prepare for space weather events affecting us by understanding the nature of the magnetosphere and the sun.

The magnetosphere is created by the interaction of Earth’s magnetic field with the solar wind, a stream of charged particles constantly flowing from the sun. The solar wind compresses and shapes the magnetosphere, causing it to stretch out into a long tail that extends far behind the Earth.

Waves of plasma from the sun slam into the Earth’s magnetosphere to create fluctuations or vibrations in the plasma shield. This gives off “ultralow-frequency” radio waves. These radio waves can be detected and converted into audible sounds as part of NASA’s HARP project. 

The THEMIS (Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms) mission, launched in 2007, consists of five satellites that traverse the magnetosphere and record ultralow-frequency waves. The HARP project has converted this data into audible sounds, allowing researchers easily to recognize patterns and spot irregularities in the plasma shield. 

The project has already made a surprising discovery, with sound bites containing patterns that go against previous predictions. The team has dubbed these unexpected sounds the “reverse harp” and plans to study them in more depth in the future.

Recording sounds from the magnetosphere is not a new phenomenon for scientists. In fact, on February 17, an X-class solar flare hit Earth and caused radio blackouts. Thomas Ashcraft, an amateur radio astronomer, and citizen scientist managed to capture an unusual audio recording of the flare colliding with Earth. Unlike the HARP sounds, which are eerie and otherworldly, Ashcraft’s recording consisted of aggressive static.

The HARP project offers an exciting opportunity for citizen scientists to help researchers uncover new and unexpected discoveries about Earth’s magnetosphere and the sun. The eerie and unsettling sounds captured by NASA’s new sound clip provide a unique and fascinating insight into the mysteries of our planet’s magnetic field.

Frankly I think all the eerie and unsettling sounds are just QRM caused by harmonics on my HF signal, but I’m not going to say anything to NASA!

Talking of QRM, there is a story this week of breakthrough from an Argentinian taxi or delivery driver which was audible in the ears of the two Russian Cosmonauts doing a spacewalk outside the ISS while it was flying over Argentina. It would appear the frequencies used on a taxi cab in the country’s capital and that of Russian astronauts were the same.

Just three seconds of interference have poked a hole in NASA’s communications trouble, with the American space agency still searching for a permanent solution.

Frequencies used for radio communications are not unlimited and interference is possible, as was the case for the Argentinian taxi driver who hopped on to the comms call for a few seconds.

A reporter who picked up on the frequency tweeted: “In the middle of the transmission of the spacewalk, what seems to be a radio taxi in Argentina is heard… or some delivery service?”

The message, a brief slice of NASA’s live feed, was translated as “150 did you say, from Irigoyen?” This was an address a taxi driver or delivery driver had asked about, and the frequency meshed into that of an astronaut’s comms call.

The interference has not yet been publicly addressed by NASA, and appears to be a small technical problem.

Sergey Prokopyev and Dimitri Petelin, the two cosmonauts who were on a spacewalk when the issue was flagged, had been moving a radiator to a recently installed Russian Nauka module.

Now here I would have asked the Argentinian delivery man to send two pizzas, and deliver them straight up!

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.

HAMNET Report 23rd April 2023

With the high levels of loadshedding likely to continue for the foreseeable future, Michael ZS1MJT has provided some advice to all HAMNET members. He says:

“Please be aware of your readiness should the power situation move to higher stages. Keep your vehicle fuel tank full, have some spare drinking water and some cash readily available.

“Cell phone tower batteries will not last the 4 hour loadshedding and cell communications will become less, and erratic. Charge up time for these batteries will not allow a full charge before the next loadshedding period. Do not rely on cell phone communications as the towers are also overloaded during loadshedding.

“Keep your batteries charged up, and test your radios and antennas.

“Be active on radio! We may be called upon any time, so get yourselves prepared!

Wise words indeed, Michael Thank you.

Beethoven has often been regarded as the greatest classical composer ever. However, his medical history was chequered, and the cause of his death has remained a bit of a mystery, until the subject was studied by researchers.

Freda Kreier, writing for Sciencenews.org says that the composer was plagued with health issues for most of his life. On March 26, 1827, he succumbed to what many historians suspect was liver failure while in his apartment in Vienna. Now, an analysis of several locks of hair passed down through families and gathered by collectors shows that Beethoven carried several genetic risk factors for liver disease, the scientists report March 22 in Current Biology.

This elevated risk — paired with a potential liver infection and the composer’s alleged drinking habits — may have hastened Beethoven’s premature death at the age of 56, says Tristan Begg, a biological anthropologist at the University of Cambridge.

It’s well-known that Beethoven’s storied career was cut short by progressive hearing loss that left the composer completely deaf by age 45. Beethoven also suffered from gastrointestinal issues and a deteriorating liver. That faulty organ is thought to be responsible for the composer’s skin reportedly turning yellow in the summer of 1821.  

The researchers used some of the best-preserved locks of his hair to reconstruct the composer’s genome. This analysis didn’t uncover any genetic markers for deafness or intestinal issues. But the team did identify several risk factors for liver disease, including a variant of the gene PNPLA3that would have tripled the composer’s risk of developing liver issues in his lifetime.

Those risk factors alone shouldn’t have doomed Beethoven. But the scientists also found traces of the Hepatitis B virus, which damages livers, in one of the strands reportedly collected shortly after Beethoven’s death. The risk to the liver from a hepatitis B infection would have been further compounded by regular alcohol use, the researchers say. Some contemporaries claimed that the composer was drinking heavily by the end of his life.

While we don’t know exactly what combination of factors killed Beethoven, “this is a fascinating detective story,” says Ian Gilmore, a hepatologist at the Royal Liverpool University Hospital in England, who was not involved with the research.

Now if you lived in the ocean and had 8 arms with many tentacles on them, what would you use them for?

Well, according to Tina Hesman Saey, it turns out that these soft-bodied cephalopods known as octopus, squid and cuttlefish have proteins on suckers along their tentacles that allow them to “taste” by touching objects. But the species have evolved to detect different compounds, researchers report in two studies published in the April 13 Nature. And the differing tastes may be tied to the species’ hunting styles.

All the species have modified versions of proteins called neurotransmitter receptors, which detect brain chemicals. Evolution morphed the brain proteins to take on new roles as taste-sensing proteins. But octopus evolution led them to develop a taste for greasy things, while squid and cuttlefish evolution tweaked the brain proteins to detect bitter compounds, the researchers discovered.

“This is an entirely new sensory system,” says Maude Baldwin, an evolutionary biologist at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Intelligence in Seewiesen, Germany, who was not involved in the work. “Together these papers offer unprecedented insight into how sensory systems evolve.”

Studying cephalopod receptors might also shed some light on how human taste-sensing proteins evolved. “It greatly enhances our understanding of how proteins evolve in general,” Baldwin says, as well as how proteins and even entire organisms acquire new functions.

Now, from the ridiculous to the sublime, I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate all the SARL members who were recipients of awards at the AGM held yesterday, and particularly Alister ZS2OK, who received the HAMNET Shield, in recognition of the hard work he put in to establishing the Western Cape’s second EOC at the City of Cape Town’s Disaster Risk Management Centre, ZS1DCC, in Goodwood. I’m very glad your sterling services have been fully recognized. Heartiest congratulations too to all the HAMNET members recognized in other ways.

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR reporting from a cold and miserable Cape Town for HAMNET in South Africa.

HAMNET Report 16th April 2023

The Global Disaster Alert Coordination System (GDACS) issued its first warning on Thursday advising Western Australians to be on high alert as Tropical Cyclone Ilsa was expected to intensify into a category 4 system, bringing gusts of 250 km/h when it made landfall between Broome and Port Hedland in the late afternoon on Friday.

The system was likely to damage roofing, knock over trees, cause floods, and cause widespread power outages over the western Kimberley region, with storms possibly extending into the Pilbara and northern interior.

The Bureau of Meteorology later upgraded Cyclone Ilsa definitively to category 4 status with gusts of wind near the centre up to 230km/h as it tracked towards the coast 290km north of Port Hedland at 00:00 UTC 13th April.

Winds in Ilsa’s “very destructive core” were expected to gust up to 275 km/h with very heavy rains (up to 400 mm) and abnormally high tides on Thursday night into Friday morning local time, before the storm moved inland, over the East Pilbara Shire and the Northern Interior District (Pilbara Region), on 14th April, weakening into a tropical storm.

A yellow cyclone alert was put in place along more than 700km of coastline between an area south of Broome and Whim Creek, while residents in the populated mining town of Port Hedland were preparing to head into lockdown.

Over the following 36 hours, very heavy rainfall, strong winds and storm surges were forecast over the western and central Pilbara Region. The Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) issued a warning zone for gales over this area.

Severe weather was also reported in Philippines, Peru, Burundi, Brazil, Somalia and Israel, with flood warnings forecast in Belarus, Latvia, Romania, Ukraine, Iran and Iraq.

A new study from the University of the Witwatersrand and the University of Brighton in the United Kingdom has confirmed that the April 2022 floods were likely the most catastrophic natural disaster recorded in KwaZulu-Natal, in terms of the lives lost and overall economic impact. 

Exactly one year ago this week, KwaZulu-Natal was hit by devastating flooding that claimed the lives of 459 people, destroyed more than 4 000 homes and left 40 000 people homeless. 

In April last year, the KwaZulu-Natal coastal zone, including the greater Durban area and South Coast, received more than 300mm of rain in 24 hours. By the end of May last year, 88 people were still missing and 45 000 people were temporarily left unemployed. The cost of infrastructure and business losses amounted to an estimated R35 billion. 

According to the study, the heavy rainfall that triggered the flooding and mass movement events was “reported in national and international media as having ‘smashed weather records’. However, no systematic and up-to-date flood record exists for KwaZulu-Natal to allow the April 2022 floods to be viewed within their full historical context”. 

The scientists found that while the floods were indeed the most catastrophic in terms of lives lost, infrastructure damaged, and economic loss, the flood was not actually the biggest in terms of the area affected, homes destroyed, or the amount of rainfall that fell collectively over a few days.

In April 1856, 303mm of rain fell in Durban over 24 hours and a record 691mm over a three-day period from 14th to 16th April. During these historic floods, an unknown number of people drowned, the entire central area of Durban was flooded, bridges were destroyed and roads were closed for several days, cutting off all communication with other parts of the country. 

The floods extended inland to Howick and the Umgeni Bridge was swept away. Over a 16km stretch of beach, between the mouths of the Umgeni and Umhlanga rivers, 200 drowned oxen were deposited.

According to the authors, it is highly likely that recent human-induced global climate warming has contributed to trends of increased flooding as they had demonstrated in their study. This trend is likely to continue in the foreseeable future. 

Thanks to the Mail & Guardian for this article.

Capetownetc.com reported on Wednesday that the NSRI Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) and NSRI rescue stations across the West Coast are keeping a lookout for the sailing vessel AKELA II, in cooperation with the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC).

A solo sailor, Emmanuel Dailler, a Frenchman aged 56, aboard the AKELA II departed Hout Bay Yacht Club on 2nd March 2023 for Martinique, in the Caribbean. The mono-hull white sailing yacht and solo sailor are now believed to be overdue, reports the NSRI.

The NSRI, in cooperation with MRCC, is appealing to seafarers on the Atlantic Ocean, islands across the Atlantic Ocean, West African coastal ports and Caribbean ports to keep a lookout and report any sightings or contact with the vessel.

AKELA II is equipped only with marine VHF radio communications on board. The yacht is plain white, with no yacht name appearing on the hull.

The NSRI notes that an AKELA II that is currently in the Caribbean is not related to the missing AKELA II with solo sailor, Emmanuel Dailler.

At this stage, the last known contact with Dailler was on his departure from the Hout Bay Yacht Club on 2nd March.

I’m sure we all hope for good news very soon.

World Amateur Radio Day (WARD) occurs on Tuesday April 18th, 2023, and will celebrate the IARU’s 98th anniversary. On this day in 1925, the IARU was formed in Paris. American Radio Relay League® (ARRL) Co-Founder Hiram Percy Maxim was its first president.

This year’s theme is Human Security for All (HS4A). The day is being celebrated with a 2-week operating event between the 11th and 25th April.

Dave Sumner, K1ZZ, IARU Assistant Secretary, reports that thanks to the support of the IARU Region 1 Youth Working Group, a special website, hs4a.iaru.org, has been established to manage the operating event. All radio amateurs are encouraged to take to the airwaves during WARD to enjoy their global friendship with other amateurs and to show their skills and capabilities to the public.

Thanks to the ARRL Letter of this week for those notes.

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.

HAMNET Report 9th April 2023

A strong earthquake of 7.0 M at a depth of 63 km occurred in northern Papua New Guinea on Sunday 2nd April at 20:04 CAT. The epicentre was located 97 km from the coastal town of Wewak, in the country’s East Sepik province in the sparsely populated mountainous Momase Region and 240 km east of the border with Indonesia.

According to the local aid agencies and partners, the earthquake was felt strongly in Mendi and the whole Highlands province. On 4th April, media reported four fatalities, 17 injured persons and approximately 300 heavily damaged houses across 23 villages throughout the East Sepik Province, in particular nearby the area of the Chambri Lake.

USGS estimates that up to 133,000 people were exposed to very strong shaking and up to 333,000 people to strong shaking.

This earthquake comes merely two weeks after a 6.1 M earthquake hit Papua New Guinea’s capital on 14 March.

Now, I am sure you have all heard of the phenomenon where animals of various types seem to sense oncoming tectonic plate shifts and earthquakes long before any seismometers or other technology reports them. Humans, of course, are the last to feel the onset of such tremors.

Can technology build on this, using the sensitivity of certain animals to the subtle signals of impending danger? In his book Where We Meet the World: The Story of the Senses, Ashley Ward reports that Martin Wikelski, director of the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behaviour in Konstanz, believes it can. Over the course of his career, Martin has developed an extraordinarily sophisticated system that traces the movement of different species around the globe. Each individual animal carries a state-of-the-art tag that transmits detailed information, including speed, acceleration, activity and location. This information is collected by the International Space Station and relayed back to Earth. One of the main goals of the project, known as Icarus, is to study long-distance migrations, and to examine how animals interact with the ecology of their environment and with each other, ultimately allowing targeted conservation efforts. The unprecedented richness and quality of the information, however, provides a means to harness animal behaviour as an early warning system for natural disasters, or, to give it the name that Martin coined, Disaster Alert Mediation using Nature (DAMN).

Some years ago, Martin and his colleagues travelled to Sicily to confront the island’s perennially troublesome volcano, Mount Etna. On the flanks of the volcano, goats graze contentedly on the vegetation that flourishes in the rich, volcanic soil. To mine this caprine local knowledge, a handful of these animals were fitted with electronic tags, allowing the researchers to monitor their behaviour from afar. Martin and his team didn’t have to wait for long, as Etna erupted a few weeks later. Retracing the behaviour of the goats in the run-up to the eruption, Martin identified a clear response around six hours earlier, when they became unusually active.

As a scientific measure, however, “unusually active” doesn’t really cut the mustard. So the next step was to establish the exact behavioural parameters that would indicate that the goats had sensed that Mount Etna was about to erupt. If this were achieved, the goat-powered alarm system could then be automated, triggering an alert whenever specific aspects of the animals’ behaviour surpassed a threshold value. Over the next two years, the doughty goats successfully detected almost 30 volcanic stirrings, seven of which posed a significant danger. That on its own is impressive, but more was to come. Etna is ringed with measuring stations that use mechanized sensors to predict volcanic activity, yet the goats outperformed these by sensing Etna’s disquiet far earlier than the tech gizmos. What’s more, they were able to identify the likely severity of the imminent eruption, something that has been notoriously difficult to achieve via scientific instruments. By melding cutting-edge technology with the evolved “supersenses” of animals, Martin has brought a rigorous 21st-century perspective to long-established cultural lore, one that promises to provide an inexpensive and effective solution to a global problem.

Thank you to Ashley Ward for this excerpt from his book.

You’ve heard me talk about the risk of radiation damage to flora and fauna in the neighbourhood of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear meltdown after the tsunami in 2011. An article in Phys.org this week notes that even a decade after the incident, concerns remain about the long-term effects of the radiation. In particular, it is not clear how the residual low-dose radiation might affect living organisms at the genetic level.

The brunt of the disaster is usually borne by the flora inhabiting the contaminated areas since they cannot move. This, however, makes them ideal for studying the effects of ionizing radiation on living organisms. Coniferous plants such as the Japanese red pine and fir have, for instance, shown abnormal branching after the Fukushima disaster. However, it is unclear whether such abnormalities reflect genetic changes caused by the prevailing low-dose-rate radiation in the area.

To address this concern, a team of researchers from Japan developed a rapid and cost-effective method to estimate the mutation risks caused by low-dose-rate radiation (0.08 to 6.86 microGrays/hour) in two widely cultivated tree species of Japan growing in the contaminated area. They used a new bioinformatics pipeline to evaluate de novo mutations (DNMs), or genetic changes/mutations that were not present earlier or inherited, in the germline of the gymnosperm Japanese cedar and the angiosperm flowering cherry.

The study, led by Dr. Saneyoshi Ueno from the Forestry and Forest Products Research Institute, was recently published in the journal Environment International and involved a contribution from Dr Shingo Kaneko from Fukushima University.

“People living in the affected areas are worried and need to feel safe in their daily lives,” says Dr Kaneko when asked about the motivation behind their study. “We wanted to clear the air of misinformation regarding the biological consequences of the nuclear power plant accident.”

[The principle was basically to decipher the original DNA of the two types of tree, and then cultivate seedlings from them, looking for new mutations (DNM’s) which seemed likely to be caused by the constant radiation exposure.]

Interestingly, the team found no DNMs for the Japanese flowering cherry and very few in the Japanese cedar  

These findings suggested that the mutation rate in trees growing in contaminated areas did not increase significantly owing to the ambient radiation. “Our results also suggest that mutation rates vary across lineages and are largely influenced by the environment,” says Dr Ueno.

The study is the first to use DNM frequency for assessing the after-effects of a nuclear disaster. With the number of nuclear power plants increasing globally, there is a growing risk of nuclear accidents. When asked about their study’s future implications, Dr Ueno says, “The method developed in our study can not only help us better understand the relationship between genetics and radiation but also perform hereditary risk assessments for nuclear accidents quickly.”

In general, good news for the world, particularly as the biggest nuclear power station in Europe in Zaporizhzhia in Ukraine is at the centre of the conflict between Ukraine and Russia, and could theoretically be damaged or melt down as a result of the war.

Thank you to Phys.org for this report.

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.

HAMNET Report 2nd April 2023

In a report issued by GDACS on Thursday, the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the US says that strong winds, tornadoes, hailstorms and thunderstorms continued to affect the Lower Mississippi Valley (in particular Mississippi, Georgia and Alabama) since 24th  March, causing severe weather-related incidents (particularly due to strong winds) that have resulted in casualties and damage.

FEMA reports, as of 28th  March, that there were 23 fatalities, 72 injured people and 82 people evacuated to shelters. In addition, FEMA reports 313 destroyed houses in Mississippi and up to 100 damaged houses in Georgia.

And on Friday evening our time, weather forecasters in the US were talking of threatening long-lasting tornadoes in Tennessee and surrounds.

HAMNET Western Cape has been informed by the organizers of the Two Oceans Marathon, which takes place in two weeks’ time, that they will not be requiring our communications services this year. No formal explanation has been given, but it appears they are going to try doing their own communications, and will see how things turn out. We hope that there will be no serious consequences.

Writing on Hackaday.com, Bryan Cockfield refers to the aspect of our hobby that involves bouncing signals off things. He says that the UK Meteor Beacon Project  hopes to encourage amateur radio operators and amateur radio astronomers to do more research about meteors as they interact with the atmosphere. A large radio beacon, which has already been placed into service, broadcasts a circularly-polarized signal in the six-meter band which is easily reflected back to Earth off meteors. Specialized receivers can pick up these signals, and are coordinated among a network of other receivers which stream the data they recover over the internet back to a central server.

With this information, the project can determine where the meteor came from, some of the properties of the meteor, and compute its trajectory by listening for the radio echoes the meteor produces. While this is still in the beginning phases and information is relatively scarce, the receivers seem to be able to be built around RTL-SDR modules that we have seen be useful across a wide variety of radio projects at an absolute minimum cost.

This is basically WSPR for meteors, using a steady beacon signal, and allowing receivers and servers to compile a data-stream of reflections and the directions they come from. This is yet another clever development to advance the ability to forecast what to expect and when.

Dailysabah.com says that Türkiye’s prompt response to the “disaster of the century” was featured on the agenda of the United Nations’ International Search and Rescue Advisory Group (INSARAG), with their secretariat and U.N. Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) teams expressing their approval of the recovery efforts.

The evaluation report sent by INSARAG included said: (Quote) “The Government of Türkiye reacted quickly after the first earthquake and made an urgent declaration of a Level 4 disaster, which means a national disaster requiring international assistance. Long-term cooperation between the National Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) and UNDAC/INSARAG made a collaborative response possible. AFAD coordinators in Ankara were on the phone with INSARAG an hour after the disaster. Our significant partnership with the AFAD allowed the rapid mobilization of international search and rescue assistance, which is critical in life-saving operations.” Close quote.

Meanwhile, houses destroyed or severely damaged are being rebuilt under the co-ordination of the Ministry of Environment, Urbanization and Climate Change. Currently, new houses in seven villages of Gaziantep’s Nurdağı district are nearing completion. The new houses will measure 122 square metres in size and have verandas in accordance with the local architecture. Mosques and community infrastructure are also being established in the recovering neighbourhoods.

A recycling method developed by Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) recovers up to 70% of lithium from battery waste without corrosive chemicals, high temperatures, and prior sorting of materials being required. The method combines mechanical processes with chemical reactions and enables inexpensive, energy-efficient, and environmentally compatible recycling of any type of lithium-ion battery. The results are reported in Communications Chemistry.

Lithium-ion batteries are omnipresent in our life. They are not only used for the wireless power supply of notebooks, smartphones, toys, remote controls, and other small devices, but also are the most important energy storage systems for the rapidly growing electric mobility sector. Increasing use of these batteries eventually results in the need for economically and ecologically sustainable recycling methods.

Presently, mainly nickel and cobalt, copper and aluminium, as well as steel are recovered from battery waste for reuse. Lithium recovery still is expensive and hardly profitable. Existing recovery methods mostly are of metallurgical character and consume a lot of energy and/or produce hazardous by-products. In contrast to this, mechano-chemical approaches based on mechanical processes to induce chemical reactions promise to reach a higher yield and sustainability with a smaller expenditure.

Such a method has now been developed by the Energy Storage Systems Department of KIT’s Institute for Applied Materials (IAM-ESS), the Helmholtz Institute Ulm for Electrochemical Energy Storage (HIU) established by KIT in cooperation with Ulm University, and EnBW Energie Baden-Württemberg AG.

The method reaches a lithium recovery rate of up to 70% without corrosive chemicals, high temperatures, and prior sorting of materials being required. “The method can be applied for recovering lithium from cathode materials of various chemical compositions and, hence, for a large range of commercially available lithium-ion batteries,” says Dr. Oleksandr Dolotko of IAM-ESS and HIU, the first author of the publication. “It enables inexpensive, energy-efficient, and environmentally compatible recycling.”

The researchers use aluminium as reducing agent in the mechano-chemical reaction. As aluminium is already contained in the cathode, no additional substances are required. The method works as follows: First, the battery waste is ground up. Then, this material reacts with aluminium to produce metallic composites with water-soluble lithium compounds.

Lithium is recovered by dissolving these compounds in water and subsequent heating to make the water evaporate. As the mechano-chemical reaction takes place at ambient temperature and pressure, the method is highly energy-efficient.

Another advantage is its simplicity, which will facilitate use on an industrial scale, as large amounts of batteries will have to be recycled in the near future.

Thank you to techxplore.com news for this excerpt from their report.

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.