Latest battery research. Researchers hope alternative technology will reduce…

Oregon State University plans to develop a battery that would not rely on rare minerals

A research team led by Oregon State University is planning to develop a new rechargeable battery that could reduce the need for environmentally destructive mining of rare minerals like nickel and lithium and accelerate the clean energy transition.

The U.S. Department of Energy awarded OSU 3 million to explore the development of a new rechargeable battery technology that would accelerate the clean energy transition without relying on rare finite minerals such as lithium, cobalt and nickel. OSU chemistry professor Xiulei “David” Ji, who will lead a battery research team, said it could be a game-changer.

“It’s a new paradigm,” he said. “We are very excited and very grateful to have this opportunity to work on this project.”

As the world transitions from fossil fuels to clean energy to reduce contributions to climate change, there is a growing need for batteries to store renewable energy and power electric vehicles. The resulting battery boom has generated environmental concerns because of the impacts of mining battery materials such as lithium, and it has driven up and demand for the minerals used to make batteries.

According to the International Energy Agency, an organization that provides data analysis for global energy policies, the world could face lithium shortages by 2025. The price of lithium has soared, tripling in 2021. Nickel, a mineral used for lithium-ion batteries, has also grown in demand and seen price hikes.

Ji, who will lead a team of researchers from Howard University, the University of Maryland and Vanderbilt University, said depending on these minerals is unsustainable and expensive. He said meeting clean energy goals soon will require a move away from relatively rare, finite minerals.

His plan is to explore anion batteries that provide the necessary components without using limited minerals like the ones lithium batteries use and that could potentially increase how much energy a battery can hold.

“The new battery chemistry does not have to rely on these elements,” Ji said. “That’s the benefit of the new chemistry. It’s a game changer.”

Ji said the primary market for these batteries would be electric vehicles, but he doesn’t rule out the possibility of anion batteries being used by large-scale utilities, like Portland General Electric’s solar, wind and battery facility. He also said they could be commercialized soon and be used in homes.

That’s something Meredith Connolly, executive director of the environmental nonprofit Climate Solutions, is looking forward to.

She said powering the economy with 100% clean electricity from wind and solar is a key part of reducing fossil fuels, and batteries are a critical part of achieving a clean energy transition.

“Part of the technological magic that batteries provide is the ability to store wind energy when the wind is blowing and solar energy when the sun is shining, and then deploy that renewable energy when there’s no wind or the sun goes down,” she said.

As EV production is ramping up, Connolly said, batteries need to be sustainably sourced and recycled to reuse the raw materials.

Oregon is one of many states providing generous incentives and rebates to switch from gas-powered vehicles to electric. Recently, the state started offering qualified residents up to 7,500 for a new EV. So far, more than 50,000 EVs are registered in the state. Oregon is also investing 100 million in building out charging infrastructure on major roadways and in rural areas to meet the demand of electric vehicles on the road.

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Taxpayers spent 15 million on research to build a breakthrough battery. Then the U.S. government gave it to China.

Aug. 3, 2022

‘Significant breakthrough’: This new sea salt battery has 4 times the capacity of lithium

Lithium. the main component in most electric batteries. can be costly to mine. But researchers have made a breakthrough with alternative ‘molten salt’ batteries.

Your electronics could soon be powered by an ultra cheap sea salt battery.

Researchers have built a new cheap battery with four times the energy storage capacity of lithium.

Constructed from sodium-sulphur. a type of molten salt that can be processed from sea water. the battery is low-cost and more environmentally friendly than existing options.

It could be a ‘breakthrough’ for renewable energy, according to lead researcher Dr Shenlong Zhao, from the University of Sydney.

“Our sodium battery has the potential to dramatically reduce costs while providing four times as much storage capacity [as Lithium],” he said.

“This is a significant breakthrough for renewable energy development which, although reduces costs in the long term, has had several financial barriers to entry.”

Why do batteries matter to renewable energy?

As the climate heats up, there is an urgent need to switch to renewable energy sources like wind and solar. But renewables are not always as consistent as other sources meaning batteries are needed to store this electricity for later use.

Many batteries are built with rare earth metals like lithium, graphite, and cobalt.

To achieve climate neutrality, the EU will require 18 times more lithium than it currently uses by 2030 and almost 60 times more by 2050.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in September that lithium and rare earths will soon be more important than oil and gas.

But these metals come at a cost. Lithium extraction can result in water shortages, biodiversity loss, damage to ecosystem functions and soil degradation.

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When the metal is produced using evaporation ponds, for example, it takes approximately 2.2 million litres to produce one metric tonne.

It’s also financially costly to mine at scale. This is where the sea salt battery could provide an alternative.

What are molten salt batteries and are they scalable?

Molten salt batteries aren’t a new concept. They’ve been around for 50 years, but they’ve been an ‘inferior alternative’ with a short energy life cycle.

But this new battery is different. Scientists altered the electrodes to improve the reactivity of the sulphur. a key element determining storage capacity.

The resulting product showed “super-high capacity and ultra-long life at room temperature,” the University of Sydney researchers advise.

Because sea salt is everywhere, it could provide a scalable alternative to lithium ion batteries.

“When the sun isn’t shining and the breeze isn’t blowing, we need high-quality storage solutions that don’t cost the Earth and are easily accessible on a local or regional level,” Dr Zhao said.

“Storage solutions that are manufactured using plentiful resources like sodium – which can be processed from sea water – also have the potential to guarantee greater energy security more broadly and allow more countries to join the shift towards decarbonisation.”

The researchers now plan to improve and commercialise the new cells.

Take the Latest EV Battery Breakthrough News With a Grain of Salt

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When the subject of the inevitable electric future comes up, friends generally fret about range, cost, and where all the materials are going to come from. Our job is to give these folks hope that science, technology, and engineering can solve these problems in time to allow the fleet and the infrastructure to improve in a timely fashion. This week there was a good bit of promising battery news. Here’s a TLDR synopsis of where the future could be headed.

Sodium Ion Battery

Those who are worried about lithium supplies running short will be interested to learn of recent progress in the area of sodium-ion battery cells, which are cheaper and inherently safer because the material doesn’t burn. Battery giant CATL announced plans some time ago to develop a battery pack combining lithium-ion and sodium-ion cells, but according to Bloomberg, Chinese automaker JAC recently showed off at test mule packing sodium-ion cells built by HiNa Battery Technologies.

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At scale, sodium-ion batteries are expected to cost roughly half what lithium-ion batteries cost, and all indications are that similar manufacturing processes could support both technologies. Another bonus: They seem to work better at lower temperatures. Huzzah! Now for the catch: they’re about 25 percent less energy dense than lithium-iron-phosphate (LFP), so achieving equivalent range would require a heavier, but possibly cheaper battery pack.

CATL and HiNa are not the only ones toiling away on the sodium-ion battery. Faradion is working with AMTE Power in the UK, then there’s Altris in Sweden, Tiamat in France, and Natron here in the U.S. Don’t expect to see production cars running Na-ion for a few years.

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M3P Battery

Closer to production than sodium-ion is CATL’s M3P technology, about which the company has remained exceptionally tight-lipped, except to say it’s similar to LFP. But tech-snoops in China assert the molecular structure is similar, but with iron replaced by three metals: magnesium, zinc, and aluminum (so maybe Metals-3-Phosphate?). This arrangement purportedly allows the batteries to operate at higher voltage, allowing them to achieve an energy density 15-20 percent higher than LFP at a cost believed to be on par with LFP.

From what we are hearing, the potential downside here is cycle life. Experts familiar with the technology are suggesting this chemistry shouldn’t be discharged below 10 percent, and then not at incredibly high discharge rates. That may augur against their use in performance EVs, but it might be perfect for applications like the Tesla Semi (which rumors suggest will indeed use M3P).

HOS-PFM Polymer Coatings

Scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have developed a polymer coating that could allow lithium-ion batteries to last longer in powerful for electric vehicles by assisting at the atomic level. The polymer is highly conductive to both electrons and ions, and using it to coat promising lightweight, inexpensive electrodes made of silicon or aluminum promises to keep them from wearing down quickly after multiple charge/discharge cycles.

In research findings recently reported in the journal Nature Energy, HOS-PFM was shown to successfully allow use of electrodes comprised of up to 80 percent silicon, which promises to boost energy density by 30 percent. Use of the coated silicon instead of graphite reduces cost and materials-sourcing difficulty. Development is just starting, however, so don’t look for this tech to improve your EV’s life, range, or affordability until later in this decade.

The Current State of Battery Technology

Continued research and development into battery technology is expanding the market opportunities for electrification.

Battery technology has evolved over the past several years, helping to bring down costs as well as expand the applications in which electrification can be applied. As batteries for mobile applications are used either in conjunction with a downsized engine as part of a hybrid powertrain or in place of an engine in full-electric architectures, they play an important role in powering a machine and its systems – including the hydraulics and pneumatics.

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Although there are solutions which eliminate fluid power systems, in many applications they will remain an important component because “the best operating systems will still require functionality that only fluid power can deliver,” said Brett Engelland, Director of Sales for Electrification, and Nick Moore, Director of Product Management for Electrification, at Vanguard, in an interview with Power Motion.

Given the growth of electrification in so many vehicle and mobile equipment applications, and the impacts it will have on the design of hydraulics and pneumatics, it is important for those in the fluid power industry to understand where battery technology currently stands.

Common Battery Types

Lithium-ion batteries are the most commonly used battery type in hybrid and electric vehicles as well as other applications. Their chemistry offers high energy output and efficiency, good high-temperature performance, and a high power-to-weight ratio, among other benefits, all of which is suitable for a range of use cases.

While lithium-ion has its benefits, it also presents challenges. According to research firm IDTechEx, the current versions of lithium-ion may be reaching their performance limits but new developments in cell materials and battery designs could help overcome these.

One possibility is shifting from the currently used graphite anodes to silicon which could provide significant improvements in energy density and performance stated IDTechEx in a press release reviewing findings from its report “Advanced Li-ion and Beyond Lithium Batteries 2022-2032: Technologies, Players, Trends, Markets.” Though it has been difficult to use larger quantities of silicon due to stability and cycle life issues, the research firm said improvements in silicon anode technology over the last 10-15 years is now enabling 5-100% silicon in the anode.

Use of new additives and electrolyte formulations is another way IDTechEx sees improvements to lithium-ion batteries being achieved. It noted one company which is utilizing phosphazenes and phosphorous-nitrogen compounds to help improve safety and performance.

U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), nickel-metal hydride batteries provide reasonable specific energy and power capabilities which suits use in computer and medical equipment. They have a longer life cycle than lead-acid, and have been used in hybrid-electric vehicles, but are challenged by their high costs and heat generation at high temperatures. Lead-acid, meanwhile, can offer a high power and inexpensive, safe option but its low specific energy and poor performance in cold temperatures, as well as its short lifespan, reduces its application use.

Research into Alternative Chemistries

As no battery chemistry is perfect, an array of research is taking place into other potential chemistries. For instance, most of the components which make up a lithium-ion battery can be recycled but doing so remains costly to date which is currently a challenge for the industry. Lithium-ion also has a high cost; the battery of an electric vehicle or machine is the most expensive aspect – even as their have come down in recent years – challenging the uptake of electric-powered vehicles.

The DOE’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory is developing a sodium-ion battery which so far has shown promise in large-scale applications. By adjusting the ingredients which make up the battery’s liquid core as well as using a different type of salt, the researchers have shown the potential for a chemistry with extended longevity which could also be a more environmentally friendly option.

Though still in the research and development stage, the battery has demonstrated what other chemistry possibilities could be available in the future.

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Researchers at the Tokyo University of Science (TUS) are investigating magnesium as an alternative to lithium ion for solid-state batteries. Among the challenges with the latter is the fact lithium is a rare earth metal – ever increasing demand for batteries will lead to it becoming more scarce; there are also environmental concerns related to the mining of rare earth metals which questions how “green” a battery technology is.

Magnesium, however, is an abundant material but to date its use in practical applications is limited due to the poor conductivity of magnesium ions in solids at room temperature. The researchers at TUS may have overcome this challenge by using metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) which have highly porous crystal structures. This enables efficient migration of the included ions and thus improving the level of conductivity possible.

At bauma 2022 and CONEXPO-CON/AGG 2023, it was evident how much electrification of construction equipment has grown in recent years. With that has come new technology partnerships and battery solutions. Danfoss Power Solutions, for instance, announced at bauma its partnership with battery provider Webasto. The companies will bring together their technological expertise in electrification to aid OEMs with the development of electric-powered machines.

Aiding the move to electric power systems in the heavy equipment market are developments of batteries specifically for this segment. Off-road machinery has its own unique requirements, use cases, and challenges; simply plugging an automotive battery into a piece of construction equipment will not work. Therefore, companies like Xerotech – which showcased its technology at CONEXPO 2023 – are developing batteries which meet the specific requirements of heavy equipment.

Several engine manufacturers serving the off-highway equipment market have also begun developing batteries. Their understanding of the market’s power requirements aids with these developments while enabling them to provide customers with a range of power system options. For instance, Briggs Stratton started developing its Vanguard Commercial Lithium Ion Battery pack in 2019, and continues to add new battery models to meet varied applications.

While some companies have chosen to develop battery technology themselves, others have acquired it. This helps to speed up development because the acquired company can bring its battery expertise together with the engine manufacturer’s knowledge of the off-highway industry, ensuring optimized solutions are developed.

Performance Insights Benefit Design

To aid with the implementation of batteries, no matter the type of chemistry or application, technology and engineering services company WAE Technologies has launched its Elysia battery intelligence software. The software is designed to provide insight into battery performance as well as management of its performance.

Two products are available, Elysia Embedded and Elysia Cloud Platform. Elysia Embedded offers battery management algorithms which can be run directly on a battery’s BMS (battery management system). These algorithms can be used by OEMs to increase an electric vehicle’s range, enable faster charging as well as maximize battery power states WAE in its press release announcing the launch of the software.

Because the software uses physics informed models for its algorithms, WAE says applications to date have shown the ability to bring up to a 30% increase in battery life and 10% potential increase in battery range.

In the previously mentioned IDTechEx report on lithium-ion batteries, the research firm notes improvements to a BMS can bring about performance improvements without the challenges associated with materials development.

The Elysia Cloud Platform uses proprietary digital twin technology to help OEMs, fleet managers and those investing in battery technology gain insights into battery performance. It provides a complete picture of a battery’s state of health to better determine how it is working in an application as well as any degradation occurring – a factor important to a battery’s potential use in secondary applications, such as grid storage, once past its useful life in its initial application.

Many Roads To The Silicon Battery Of The Future

Still more thickening of the plot occurred last December 22, when Businesswire distributed a press release that apparently speaks for JCESR, Argonne, and Blue Current all at once. The release credits JCESR for enabling Blue Current to “develop a safe, solid-state battery that is ready for megawatt-scale manufacturing.”

The press release notes that Blue Current’s composite electrolyte eliminates the need for metal plates and bolts, and that the target market is electric vehicles.

“As part of rigorous safety testing, the company subjected its cells to harsh conditions that electric vehicles could encounter in the real world. Thermal runaway — an overheating event that can lead to fires — never occurred,” the release emphasizes.

Woke, Schmoke

To be clear, all of this is speculation. Take a look at NEO’s scientific advisory board to see more connections with other top universities in the US, any one of which could have a spinoff in play.

On the other hand, it would be deliciously ironic if Blue Current actually is the to-be-named spinoff hooking up with NEO. That’s because a branch of Koch Industries has put up the big bucks to launch Blue Current’s first factory, a 22,000-square-foot facility to be located in Hayward, California.

That would be the same Koch Industries upon which CleanTechnica has spilled plenty of ink, along with many other news organizations, involving the sprawling company’s fossil energy activities.

Various Koch family members have earned a reputation for fueling right-wing policy making up to and including the US Supreme Court. Koch Industries and its various other branches have also been reportedly funneling money into a multi-state effort to keep “woke capital” from funneling money into renewable energy ventures.

Nevertheless, last year Koch Strategic Platforms announced a 30 million investment in Blue Current.

Blue Current’s proprietary battery maximizes safety and performance, stabilizes temperature, and enables greater scalability across uses,” KSP noted in a press release dated April 22, 2022. “The fully dry high silicon elastic composite battery combines the mechanical properties of polymers with the ionic conductivity of glass ceramics.”

The announcement also cited KSP managing director Jeremy Bezdek, who said, “Solid-state battery technology will play a pivotal role in global energy transformation.”

“Our extensive diligence indicated that Blue Current has an advantaged intellectual property position that has the potential to be disruptive in the solid-state battery space,” Bezdek added.

It all makes sense when you consider that KSP has also invested in the startup REE, which plans to make waves with a flexible, skateboard-style electric vehicle platform.

Find me on LinkedIn: @TinaMCasey or Mastodon: @Casey or Post: @tinamcasey

Photo (cropped): New anode materials for a silicon battery courtesy of NEO Energy Materials.

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Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on @TinaMCasey and Spoutible.

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