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Cobalt-Free Battery

Reducing the cobalt content in lithium-ion batteries is good news for the environment, human rights, and maybe even the performance of the battery itself.

The lithium-ion battery is an electrochemical wunderkind. We use it for everything, whether it’s mundane gadgetry like phones and laptops or more extreme applications like electric ships and helicopters on Mars. The Li-ion battery is so important to modern life that it earned the trio of chemists who invented it a Nobel Prize last year. But somewhere along the way, the battery industry developed a cobalt dependency.

Cobalt is a scarce, toxic, and lustrous mineral that is found in almost all lithium-ion batteries used today. It’s expensive, heavy, and linked to unethical mining practices, wild price swings, and a tenuous global supply chain. It’s no wonder so many battery manufacturers want to kick their cobalt habit. But the material plays a crucial role in stabilizing batteries and boosting their energy density. Although experimental cobalt-free cells exist, they’ve all had major performance issues like limited lifetimes and slower charge rates - until now.

In July, a team of three researchers from the University of Texas reported the results from tests using a new cathode chemistry that eliminates cobalt entirely. They used their nickel-rich cathode in a small experimental lithium-ion pouch cell about the size of a deck of cards.

Although the battery had a slightly lower energy density than typical cobalt batteries, it was able to operate at higher voltages and at similar charge rates. Even after 1,000 full charge-discharge cycles - the typical lifetime for a commercial battery - the experimental cell performed as well as comparable cells with cobalt cathodes.

“A significant number of people say that cobalt is essential, and that if you remove it you won’t be able to get the same kind of performance,” says Arumugam Manthiram, the director of the Texas Materials Institute at the University of Texas, Austin, and the lead author of the paper. “We are the first to show that it’s possible to eliminate cobalt without compromising performance.”

Original source: Wired

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