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Heavy metal-free battery design could alleviate environmental concerns

Technology News |
By Rich Pell

The chemistry, say the researchers, uses three new and different proprietary materials that have never before been recorded as being combined in a battery. The materials for the battery are able to be extracted from seawater, laying the groundwork for less invasive sourcing techniques than current material mining methods.

“Just as promising as this new battery’s composition is its performance potential,” says the company in a blog post announcing the research. “In initial tests, it proved it can be optimized to surpass the capabilities of lithium-ion batteries in a number of individual categories including lower costs, faster charging time, higher power and energy density, strong energy efficiency and low flammability.”

The design uses a cobalt and nickel-free cathode material, as well as a safe liquid electrolyte with a high flash point. This combination of cathode material and electrolyte, say the researchers, demonstrated an ability to suppress lithium metal dendrites during charging, thereby reducing flammability, which is widely considered a significant drawback for the use of lithium metal as an anode material.

“This discovery holds significant potential for electric vehicle batteries, for example, where concerns such as flammability, cost, and charging time come into play,” says the company. “Current tests show that less than five minutes are required for the battery – configured for high power – to reach an 80 percent state of charge. Combined with the relatively low cost of sourcing the materials, the goal of a fast-charging, low-cost electric vehicle could become a reality.”

When optimized for very high-power density – such as will be needed for flying vehicles and electric aircrafts – the new battery design exceeds more than 10,000 W/L, outperforming the most powerful lithium-ion batteries available. In addition, say the researchers, tests have shown this battery can be designed for a long-life cycle, making it an option for smart power grid applications and new energy infrastructures where longevity and stability is key.

Overall, according to the company, this battery has shown the capacity to outperform existing lithium-ion batteries not only in the previously listed applications, but can also be optimized for a range of specific benefits, including:

  • Lower cost: The active cathode materials tend to cost less because they are free of cobalt, nickel, and other heavy metals. These materials are typically very resource-intensive to source, and also have raised concerns over their sustainability.
  • Faster charging: Less than five minutes required to reach an 80 percent state of charge (SOC), without compromising specific discharge capacity.
  • High power density: More than 10,000 W/L. (exceeding the power level that lithium-ion battery technology can achieve).
  • High energy density: More than 800 Wh/L, comparable to the state-of-art lithium-ion battery.
  • Excellent energy efficiency: More than 90 percent (calculated from the ratio of the energy to discharge the battery over the energy to charge the battery).
  • Low flammability of electrolytes

The company says it has joined with Mercedes-Benz Research and Development North America, battery electrolyte supplier Central Glass, and battery manufacturer Sidus to create a new next-generation battery development ecosystem. While plans for the larger development of this battery are still in the exploratory phase, says the company, its hope is that this budding ecosystem will help to bring these batteries into reality.

Looking ahead, the researchers say they have also implemented an artificial intelligence (AI) technique called semantic enrichment to further improve battery performance by identifying safer and higher performance materials.

IBM Research

Related articles:
Blockchain to ensure traceability of cobalt in Volvo’s traction batteries
Blockchain pilot aims to address cobalt supply chain concerns
BMW-led consortium plans to establish green battery production in Europe
Li-ion battery material harms key soil microbe, study finds


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