During formation and cycling of nickel–metal hydride (NiMH cells), surface corrosion on the metal hydride particles forms a porous outer layer of needle-shaped rare-earth hydroxide crystals. Under this layer, a denser but thinner oxidized layer protects the inner metallic part of the MH electrode powder particles. Nano-sized nickel-containing clusters that are assumed to promote the charge and discharge reaction kinetics are also formed here. In this study, mechanical treatments are tested to recycle hydrogen storage alloys from spent NiMH batteries. This removes the outer corroded surface of the alloy particles, while maintaining the catalytic properties of the surface. Scanning electron microscopy images and powder X-ray diffraction measurements show that the corrosion layer can be partly removed by ball milling or sonication, combined with a simple washing procedure. The reconditioned alloy powders exhibit improved high rate properties and activate more quickly than the pristine alloy. This indicates that the protective interphase layer created on the alloy particle during their earlier cycling is rather stable. The larger active surface that is created by the mechanical impact on the surface by the treatments also improves the kinetic properties. Similarly, the mechanical strain during cycling cracks the alloy particles into finer fragments. However, some of these particles form agglomerates, reducing the accessibility for the electrolyte and rendering them inactive. The mechanical treatment also separates the agglomerates and thus further promotes reaction kinetics in the upcycled material. Altogether, this suggests that the MH electrode material can perform better in its second life in a new battery.
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