IBM Develops a Lithium-Ion Battery Using Minerals in Seawater to Replace Cobalt
Computer maker International Business Machines Corp (IBM) announced that it has developed a new electric vehicle battery technology that uses minerals contained in seawater to replace cobalt, an essential mineral used in lithium-ion batteries, Reuters reports. These batteries are used to power smartphones, laptops and electric vehicles.
IBM said the materials, which are extracted from seawater, and requires no cobalt. The company said its breakthrough technology has proven to outperform lithium-ion batteries in cost, charging time, and energy efficiency.
IBM said it has partnered with the research wing of Daimler AG's Mercedes-Benz, battery electrolyte supplier Central Glass, and battery manufacturer Sidus for the commercial development of the new design.
"The goal would be, within a year or so, to have the first working prototype (of the battery)," said Jeff Welser, vice president at IBM Research to Reuters.
IBM may not necessarily end up making a product using the design, Welser added.
Automakers are racing to secure supply contracts with battery makers so they have access to a steady supply of batteries for future electric vehicles.
However, much of the world's cobalt supply is found in vast reserves in the Democratic Republic of Congo in South Africa, where many workers, including children, toil in dangerous conditions without safety gear, often using hand tools to extract the rare mineral from underground cobalt mines, according to workers, government officials and evidence uncovered by The Washington Post in 2016.
The Democratic Republic of Congo accounted for around 64% of all the world's cobalt production in 2018, according to the United States Geological Survey and automakers are racing to find alternative sources for lithium ion batteries.
Due to these conditions, German automaker BMW said in March it will no longer purchase cobalt from the Democratic Republic of Congo, beginning with its fifth generation of electric vehicles from 2020-2021.
Automaker Volvo Cars is now utilizing blockchain technology in an effort to ensure that raw materials for its EV batteries are sustainably sourced.
An electric car battery pack requires as much as 20 pounds of cobalt per vehicle and demand for the mineral is rising rapidly, as automakers starting building more electric vehicles. The rising demand for cobalt is expected to result in shortages and higher costs.
Electric automaker Tesla is working alongside its battery partner Panasonic to reduce the amount of cobalt in its vehicle batteries. In 2018, Tesla chief executive Elon Musk tweeted that the Model 3's batteries contain around 3% cobalt. He said the next generation of Tesla batteries will use no cobalt.
China's largest lithium ion battery supplier Contemporary Amperex Technology Co. Limited (CATL), which supplier batteries to automakers Mercedes Benz and Toyota, is also looking to reduce the amount of cobalt in its batteries. The company makes NCM 523 batteries which contain 20% cobalt. CATL is working on a new design that uses just 10% cobalt.
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