Cobalt-free battery will drive electric vehicles further and for less cost
Updated: Sep 10, 2020
For a number of reasons (ethical, environmental and economic), the holy grail in the production of the type of high-energy battery production which power electronic devices has been to eliminate the inherent cobalt content. A team of researchers from the Cockrell School of Engineering at the University of Texas (UT) have made this breakthrough by creating a cobalt-free high-energy lithium-ion battery.
The ramifications for clean energy are considerable. Cobalt is found in the negatively charged electrode (or cathode) of almost all lithium-ion batteries - the type of batteries which power electric vehicles, laptops, smartphones, etc. It is an expensive mineral which has been the subject of damning reports about elements of its production in the Democratic Republic of Congo where about 60% of the world’s cobalt is mined.
Previous attempts to produce lithium-ion batteries without cobalt have led to a slow response time, a battery which takes longer to charge and one with a shorter life-cycle. However, the team of three researchers from UT have overcome these problems by developing a new class of cathodes which is 89% nickel combined with manganese and aluminium.
The increased nickel component leads to a longer battery life thereby facilitating a greater range for electric vehicles. Through finding the optimal combination of metals and equalising their ion distribution, the UT team have also solved the life-cycle problem.
Costs of this new battery will be greatly reduced: cathodes can comprise roughly half of the materials costs of the lithium-ion battery with cobalt making up about 20% of the metals used. Cobalt costs more than the other three component metals (nickel, manganese, aluminium) combined and its price is also notoriously volatile.
As Arumugam Manthiram, one of the UT team along with Steven Lee and Wangda Li, put it: “Cobalt is the least abundant and most expensive component in battery cathodes and we are completely eliminating it”.
The team have formed a startup called TexPower to bring the technology to market with the help of funding from the U.S. Department of Energy. No date has been provided for this but it will be eagerly awaited by electrical vehicle manufacturers and owners and, of course, environmentalists.