New battery design eliminates the need for heavy metals

IBM researchers have made a new battery discovery that could eliminate the need for heavy metals in battery production. IBM says that eliminating the need for heavy metals in battery production could transform the long-term sustainability of many elements of the energy infrastructure. Many batteries today need heavy metals like nickel and cobalt and pose significant environmental and humanitarian risks.

Cobalt, in particular, is mostly mined in central Africa, where it is at times mined using slave and child labor. IBM says that using three new and different proprietary materials that have never been used in combination with a battery, it has discovered new chemistry for a battery. That chemistry has no heavy metals or other substances with sourcing concerns.

The materials that the new battery uses can be extracted from seawater. IBM says the discovery lays the groundwork for less invasive sourcing techniques than current material mining methods. As promising as no metals in a battery are, the team says that the performance potential is promising as well. In initial tests, a battery using this new chemistry was able to surpass the capabilities of lithium-ion batteries in a number of individual categories.

Those categories include lower costs, faster charge time, higher power and energy density, strong energy efficiency, and low flammability. The design uses a cobalt and nickel-free cathode material and a safe liquid electrolyte with a high flash point. Tests show that less than five minutes of charging is needed for 80% state of charge.

IBM notes that the battery, combined with the low cost of material and fast charging, could help usher in low-cost electric vehicles. The battery can also be optimized for very high-power density that can scale a power load quickly, making them suitable for electric aircraft and flying vehicles. When IBM optimized the battery for that situation, the battery exceeds more than 10,000 W/L, which outperforms the most powerful lithium-ion batteries available. Plans for the development of the battery are underway in partnership with Mercedes-Benz Research and Development North America and Central Glass, a battery electrolyte maker.