Toxin Free Batteries on the Way

January 23, 2020


Today, IBM Research is building on a long history of materials science innovation to unveil a new battery discovery. This new research could help eliminate the need for heavy metals in battery production and transform the long-term sustainability of many elements of our energy infrastructure.

As battery-powered alternatives for everything from vehicles to smart energy grids are explored, there remain significant concerns around the sustainability of available battery technologies.

Many battery materials, including heavy metals such as nickel and cobalt, pose tremendous environmental and humanitarian risks. Cobalt in particular, which is largely available in central Africa, has come under fire for careless and exploitative extraction practices.1

Using three new and different proprietary materials, which have never before been recorded as being combined in a battery, our team at IBM Research has discovered a chemistry for a new battery which does not use heavy metals or other substances with sourcing concerns.

The materials for this 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. 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.

New battery design could outperform lithium-ion across several sustainable technologies 

Discovered in IBM Research’s Battery Lab, this design uses a cobalt and nickel-free cathode material, as well as a safe liquid electrolyte with a high flash point. This unique combination of the cathode and electrolyte 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. 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.

In the quickly evolving arena of flying vehicles and electric aircrafts, having access to batteries with very high-power density, which can scale a power load quickly, is critical. When optimized for this factor, this new battery design exceeds more than 10,000 W/L, outperforming the most powerful lithium-ion batteries available. Additionally, our 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, 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

From lab to industry with automotive, electrolyte and battery manufacturers

To move this new battery from early stage exploratory research into commercial development, IBM Research has joined with Mercedes-Benz Research and Development North America, Central Glass, one of the top battery electrolyte suppliers in the world, and Sidus, a battery manufacturer, to create a new next-generation battery development ecosystem. While plans for the larger development of this battery are still in the exploratory phase, our hope is that this budding ecosystem will help to bring these batteries into reality.

Below, somewhat goofy but useful discussion of various battery chemistries.


20 Responses to “Toxin Free Batteries on the Way”

  1. Gingerbaker Says:

    Ohm my. Simply electrifying announcement, charged with meaning. Anode it was coming, but it’s still a shock.

  2. renewableguy Says:

    So why publicize this then?

  3. dumboldguy Says:

    Seems like a miracle breakthrough—-so, let’s start making and selling them ASAP, IBM and friends, so that I can sell my Solar Roadway stock (and GB can TRY to get out from under his Tesla stock when their battery business implodes).

  4. redskylite Says:

    This is a promising announcement from the company who in the 1980’s transformed the computer, from a distant bulky mainframe to the slim computer most have at home today.

    So let the dinosaurs continue holding their lumps of black shiny coal in their hand, while the world slowly moves on.

    New solar power source and storage developed

    A new form of combined solar power generation and storage is being developed for the UK.

    It couples thin, flexible, lighter solar sheets with energy storage to power buildings or charge vehicles off-grid.

  5. jfon Says:

    Vanadium perhaps ? Experiments have been done to extract uranium from seawater, and vanadium, which is also often present in uranium ores, is co-precipitated. Can’t see it being cheaper than ordinary mining for the foreseeable future, though.

  6. jfon Says:

    I wouldn’t get too exited just because IBM is involved. Lockheed were touting a near-term fusion reactor a couple of years ago, and they’ve gone remarkably quiet since. A quick google has IBM making 80 billion in a year, Lockheed at 53 billion.

    • mboli Says:

      The Lockheed Martin compact fusion project seems to ticking right along.

      • dumboldguy Says:

        ALL “fusion projects” have been ticking along for many decades now, and making no real progress—-don’t hold your breath. Perhaps it’s because of the shortage of Unobtainium?—-maybe IBM will find some in seawater.

      • jfon Says:

        ‘In October 2014 Lockheed Martin announced a plan to “build and test a compact fusion reactor in less than a year with a prototype to follow within five years”.’ Wikipedia. Instead of always being twenty years away, it’s only always five years away!

      • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

        Fusion is the technology of the future, and it always will be.

  7. Bryson Brown Says:

    This is the kind of thing we need, and the corporate sector knows it. Anything that really works out will be a ticket to money and power, as a new energy system is born. If governments would end the subsidies to oil and gas, it might even happen quickly enough to avoid utter catastrophe–though I know some Australians who might differ on that point…

  8. jimbills Says:

    It only makes sense that at some point a new battery system will surpass the abilities and drawbacks of lithium ion batteries.

    Recent news has Steven Mnuchin fighting with Christine Lagarde:

    Mnuchin’s basic argument is that we should just wait for technology to get better. He’s not wrong that it will get better. But posts like this, and Mnuchin, only remind me of the inherent inability of technology to truly ‘solve’ our environmental problems. It just serves to grow the economy, and the sum pressure of that growth breaks down the biosphere in multiple ways we are still discovering and consumes resources at a greater and greater pace:

    This is not to say that we shouldn’t figure out any way to reduce carbon emissions. We should. But technology only solutions aren’t going to cut it.

  9. […] Toxin Free Batteries on the Way — Climate Denial Crock of the Week […]

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