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Research & Development Will batteries be made of seawater minerals in the future?

Editor: Erika Granath

A team of researchers from IBM has discovered a chemistry for more efficient and safer batteries that don't use heavy metals or other substances with sourcing concerns. Instead, these new batteries will be made with seawater minerals.

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The materials for IBM's new battery can be extracted from seawater, laying the groundwork for less invasive sourcing techniques than current material mining methods.
The materials for IBM's new battery can be extracted from seawater, laying the groundwork for less invasive sourcing techniques than current material mining methods.
(Source: Public Domain / Unsplash)

Mining activities on heavy metals pose tremendous environmental and humanitarian risks. And since a whole range of batteries have excessively high heavy metal content, their negative impact on our health and the climate is a fact. Cobalt, copper, and nickel are all examples of heavy metals that occur in significant quantities in, for example, Lithium-ion batteries.

As battery-powered alternatives for everything from vehicles to smart energy grids are explored, researches have voiced the need for greener battery solutions. Now, IBM Research appears to have made a significant breakthrough that can bring sustainable batteries to the market sooner rather than later. The materials for the new battery chemistry that IBM's research team has discovered can be extracted from seawater. (Yes, you read that right—seawater.)

More powerful, greener and safer battery

Respect for the environment is not the only thing that the new heavy metal-free battery has in its favor. According to IBM, initial tests showed that it can be optimized to surpass the capabilities of lithium-ion batteries in several individual categories, including lower costs, faster charging time, higher power and energy density, strong energy efficiency, and low flammability.

According to IBM, the tests on this heavy metal-free battery showed that it could be designed for a long-life cycle. This means that it can be an option for smart power grid applications and new energy infrastructures where longevity and stability are key.

Potential to revolutionize electric cars

With an incredibly speedy charging-time—less than five minutes are required for the battery to reach an 80 percent charge—the new battery discovered in IBM Research's Battery Lab could revolutionize electric cars. The heavy metal-free battery can reach an energy density of more than 800 watts hour per liter, which is comparable to modern lithium-ion batteries. Furthermore, it has a power density (the capacity to provide high power) that exceeds 10,000 W/L. That's more than the most powerful lithium-ion batteries available today. Finally, its energy efficiency exceeds 90 percent.

If you now jump up and down with excitement, try not to get ahead: While IBM does use promising language to describe the discovery at its blog, they don't reveal whether the new battery technology has progressed beyond the experimental stage.

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