New batteries without using cobalt
Due to the invention of the lithium-ion battery, electronics such as smartphones and personal computers have become much thinner and smaller. It may be still fresh in people’s memory that the Japanese researcher Akira Yoshino received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for its research and development. By the way, did you know that there are still issues with this lithium-ion?
The first is the issue on supplying materials. In order to make lithium-ion batteries, heavy metals such as cobalt, called rare metals, are needed, and it is estimated that half of the world’s cobalt reserves and production are in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. However, the political situation in the country is still unstable due to the civil war in 1998, and the involvement of children in mining has led to the issue of child labor. In addition, since it is a natural resource concerned to be depleted, mining has been the subject of criticism in terms of sustainability.
The second is the issue on disposal. There is a high risk of heat generation and ignition due to damage or deformity: For example, fires can be caused by lithium-ion batteries left in non-combustible waste or bulky waste. This ignitability has also been treated as a significant issue in the development of electric vehicles and new-model aircraft, and the research is still being conducted.
For these issues, IBM Research has announced to develop a new battery that does not use cobalt as a raw material, unlike lithium-ion batteries. The alternative for cobalt is a material extracted from seawater. In addition to being able to reduce the burden on the environment more than the mining that has been used so far, this can also result in lower costs by being released from supply instability.
Moreover, the research results have shown that new battery designs using this material outperform traditional lithium-ion batteries in many aspects. In terms of ignitability, it has been reduced by using new material for cathode, as well as a safe electrolyte with a high flash point. It also showed superiority in charging time, power density, energy density, and energy efficiency.
IBM Research has already started developing this battery to make it into practical use, in collaboration with Mercedes-Benz Research and Development North America, a battery manufacturer Sidus, and, a battery electrolyte maker Central Glass. The plans for the large-scale development are still in a pilot stage; however, since it has officially been announced, it is expected that activities in each industry will become more active.
In developing this battery, IBM Research’s research team used artificial intelligence (AI) technology to identify safe, high-performance materials. It can be said that making AI contribute to solving challenges which the company is facing is a resource-based CSV unique to IBM.
*CSV (Creating Shared Value): A concept in which a company solves social issues through its business activities and tries to achieve both “social value” and “corporate value.” It is also said “turning social problems and problem solving into a business.”