IBM Research Creates Battery Design Free of Heavy Metals

December 26, 2019 Alix Paultre

Power storage has always been an issue in untethered electrical systems. From Lead/Acid to Lithium-Ion, however, materials has also been a serious issue. Heavy metals and dangerous chemicals plague battery designs and cause issues in deployment, use, and recycling. 

Addressing the need for cleaner alternate energy-storage solutions, IBM Research recently unveiled a new battery discovery, that could help eliminate the need for heavy metals in battery production. This would in turn transform the long-term sustainability of many elements of our energy infrastructure, enabling safer battery storage systems to be deployed in facilities, vehicles, and the smart grid.

Currently, many batteries contain dangerous materials, including heavy metals such as nickel and cobalt, that pose tremendous environmental and humanitarian risks. In addition, many potential conflict materials needed by the electronics industry, Cobalt in particular, have come under fire for careless and exploitative extraction practices.

A team at IBM Research, using three new and different proprietary materials, has discovered a chemistry for a battery design that does not use heavy metals, or other substances with sourcing concerns. The materials for this battery can be extracted from seawater, laying the groundwork for less invasive sourcing techniques than current material mining methods.

The advanced battery’s composition also offers an improved performance potential, and could surpass the capabilities of lithium-ion batteries in ways such as lower costs, faster charging time, higher power and energy density, strong energy efficiency, and low flammability.

Discovered in IBM Research’s Battery Lab, the design uses a cobalt and nickel-free cathode material, as well as a safe liquid electrolyte with a high flash point. This novel combination of the cathode and electrolyte can suppress lithium metal dendrites during charging, reducing flammability and cell failure risk.

When optimized for this factor, the battery design exceeds more than 10,000 W/L, and can be designed for a long life-cycle, addressing smart power grid applications and energy infrastructures where longevity and stability is key. To speed commercialization, IBM Research has joined with Mercedes-Benz Research and Development North America, Central Glass, and Sidus, to create a next-generation battery development ecosystem.

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