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IBM Invents Heavy Metal and Cobalt-Free Battery

Battery
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IBM announced last week that it has discovered a breakthrough new battery technology without heavy metals and with superior characteristics as lithium-ion batteries. Instead, the new battery is based on three new materials that can be extracted from sea water, leading to improved sustainability. IBM is partnering with other companies to commercialize the technology.

IBM Research claims that its new battery technology outperforms lithium-ion batteries on all levels:

  • Lower cost: because there is no cobalt, nickel and other heavy metals in the cathode, as those are resource-intensive to source
  • Faster charging: less than five minutes to reach 80% capacity
  • Higher power density: over 10,000 W/L (Wikipedia cites 1500 W/kg for lithium-ion)
  • High energy density: 800 Wh/L (Wikipedia cites 680 Wh/L for lithium-ion)
  • Excellent energy efficiency: over 90% (Wikipedia cites 80-90% for lithium-ion)
  • Low flammability of electrolytes

IBM in particular stresses the heavy metal-free nature of the new battery, improving the long-term sustainability of batteries. IBM Research’s Battery Lab instead has used three “new and different proprietary materials”, which it says have never before been combined in a battery. The company did not disclose the materials, but says they can be extracted from seawater to lay the groundwork for less invasive sourcing techniques than mining.

The active cathode does not feature cobalt and nickel and the battery uses a safe liquid electrolyte. According to IBM, the design suppresses the forming of lithium dendrites, which can cause short circuits if they connect the anode and cathode. This reduces the risk of flammability. IBM says these characteristics give its discovery potential for electric vehicles, electric aircraft and smart power grids.

IBM has provided few specific, technical details of the battery, though, making it difficult for outsiders to assess the technology. Researcher Young-hye Na, told IEEE Spectrum that the company had built prototype pouch battery cells in the lab "which give her group confidence that they could develop a commercial product for limited applications within one to two years." IBM's blog post also mentions the use of artificial intelligence: 

"Moving forward, the team has also implemented an artificial intelligence (AI) technique called semantic enrichment to further improve battery performance by identifying safer and higher performance materials. Using machine learning techniques to give human researchers access to insights from millions of data points to inform their hypothesis and next steps, researchers can speed up the pace of innovation in this important field of study.”

The technology is in the early exploratory research stage according to IBM, but it wants to bring it in commercial development and is partnering with other companies to build a development ecosystem around the new battery. These include Mercedes-Benz R&D, Central Glass, an important battery electrolyte supplier, and Sidus, a battery manufacturer.

  • InvalidError
    The obvious thing you can get specifically from sea water in meaningful quantities other than the water itself would be salt, though sodium-based batteries have been available in user-unfriendly forms for 30+ years and wouldn't qualify as "never used before in a battery."
    Reply
  • hotaru251
    seawater is more "contaminated" than one would think.

    chloride, calcium, potassium, sulfate, magnesium, (inorganic) carbon, strontium, bromide, boron, fluoride, phosphorus, and nitrogen and some organic stuff like amino acids and carbohydrates.

    Also have gases from the air such a argon, co2, oxygen.

    So there could be many mixtures it could be.
    Here is hoping it does only take 2 or 3 years to get it to market.
    Reply
  • InvalidError
    hotaru251 said:
    seawater is more "contaminated" than one would think.
    There may be many things in seawater, but not that many where seawater is a potentially viable alternative to mining or other methods. Getting carbon out of air or water is far less cost-effective than plucking it out of industrial plant smoke stacks or just burning stuff,. Calcium would likely be more cost-effective to get from rendering bones than filtering water.
    Reply
  • grimfox
    Those battery specs are pretty ridiculous. It sounds like someone took all the theoretical "possible" maximums and stuck them together to make the result look much better than it actually is. I wouldn't be surprised if the probable specs were more comparable to current market batteries and the actual specs of what they've been able to recreate in the lab are lower than current market batteries. If it's really as good as claimed hopefully they can bring it to market quickly. So many ground breaking work in battery design is hidden behind proprietary patents. We could probably see a 20-30% improvement in battery tech overnight if all the current battery tech patents were opened up.

    I could see a low flame battery being very interesting to companies like Boeing. Certainly those Auto companies that have been late to the game in terms of developing their battery supply lines would be very interested in alternate chemistry. Looks like Mercedes will be the first to benefit, as they are partnered with IBM in this research.
    Reply
  • CerianK
    From IBM's article: "This unique combination of the cathode and electrolyte demonstrated an ability to suppress lithium metal dendrites during charging". Some of the experts that have been interviewed concerning this seem to have not actually read the IBM blog completely.

    Taken at face value, this is still a lithium-based battery, or at least lithium is a major component.
    The dendrite issue is well known, so the quote above, if true, would go a long way toward explaining some of the claimed exceptional properties and characteristics.

    In any case, I am curious how the full realization of this technology would impact the proposed deep ocean strip-mining for cobalt and nickel (and manganese), as battery production was one of the main example cases used for justifying the cost expenditure to perform such exotic mining operations.
    Reply
  • hotaru251
    InvalidError said:
    There may be many things in seawater, but not that many where seawater is a potentially viable alternative to mining or other methods. Getting carbon out of air or water is far less cost-effective than plucking it out of industrial plant smoke stacks or just burning stuff,. Calcium would likely be more cost-effective to get from rendering bones than filtering water.
    not saying its a viable thing, just that most ppl dont know that seawater is more than just salt water.
    and the article never said it was from seawater itself..just that the stuff can be gotten from seawater.

    if carbon was involved (likely not) they could get it from other ways and still claim it can be gotten from seawater.
    Reply
  • Giroro
    InvalidError said:
    There may be many things in seawater, but not that many where seawater is a potentially viable alternative to mining or other methods. Getting carbon out of air or water is far less cost-effective than plucking it out of industrial plant smoke stacks or just burning stuff,. Calcium would likely be more cost-effective to get from rendering bones than filtering water.

    In Fairness, IBM only staid that the materials -can- be extracted from seawater, not that it would be cost-effective.
    But still, there's a lot of non-cost-effective things people do when they think it will save the world, or whatever.
    Reply
  • CerianK
    This is likely a lithium-sulfur battery, extrapolated from this new Tom's article that discusses the link between IBM, Daimler/Mercedes-Benz, batteries and quantum computing.

    Sweet... I'll take two (but will probably still have to store them at a ~50% charge).
    Reply