RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – IBM scientists have created a new battery design that utilizes minerals from seawater as key ingrediants rather than heavy metals such as cobalt. And the new design has proved in tests to be more powerful while also charging much faster than conventional lithium-ion batteries.

Such a breakthrough could be a big boost for electric vehicles, the range of which is limit by current batter design.

“This discovery holds significant potential for electric vehicle batteries, for example, where concerns such as flammability, cost and charging time come into play,” wrote Dr. Young-HyeNa, manager of Materials Innovations for Next-Gen Batteries at IBM Research in a blog post.

‘Current tests show that less than five minutes are required for the battery–configured for high power -to reach an 80 percent state of charge. Combined with the relatively low cost of sourcing the materials, the goal of a fast-charging, low-cost electric vehicle could become a reality.”

IBM is already moving to advance the technology in partnership with several other firms, including Mercedes-Benz.

A Differential Electrochemical Mass Spectroscopy (DEMS) System in the IBM Research Battery Lab, which measures the amount of gas that has evolved from a battery cell during charging and discharging cycles. (IBM photo)

“To move this new battery from early stage exploratory research into commercial development, IBM Research has joined with Mercedes-Benz Research and Development North America, Central Glass, one of the top battery electrolyte suppliers in the world, and Sidus, a battery manufacturer, to create a new next-generation battery development ecosystem,” the IBM scientist wrote.

“While plans for the larger development of this battery are still in the exploratory phase, our hope is that this budding ecosystem will help to bring these batteries into reality.”

The new design also “could help eliminate the need for heavy metals in battery production and transform the long-term sustainability of many elements of our energy infrastructure.”

And a key source material is sea water.

“Using three new and different proprietary materials, which have never before been recorded as being combined in a battery, our team at IBM Research has discovered a chemistry for a new battery which does not use heavy metals or other substances with sourcing concerns,” the IBM scientist wrote. He cited use of a “a cobalt and nickel-free cathode material, as well as a safe liquid electrolyte with a high flash point.”

“The materials for this battery are able to be extracted from seawater, laying the groundwork for less invasive sourcing techniques than current material mining methods.”

Environmental concerns have been raised about the mining of such heavy metals including cobalt and nickel as well as human rights issues surrounding cobalt mines in central Africa. In fact, several US tech giants were sued this week about alleged use of children to mine the cobalt.

IBM say the new battery has strong performance potential as well.

“In initial tests, it proved it can be optimized to surpass the capabilities of lithium-ion batteries in a number of individual categories including lower costs, faster charging time, higher power and energy density, strong energy efficiency and low flammability,” Young-HyeNa wrote. He noted flammability is “a widely considered a significant drawback for the use of lithium metal as an anode material.”

IBM employs several thousand people across North Carolina and operates one of its largest corporate campuses in RTP.