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Advances are being made that could bolster sustainability and increase energy density. Cobalt, a raw material necessary for the lithium-ion batteries that make electric vehicles and cutting-edge mobile phones possible, can be problematic. For one thing, it may be in short supply relatively soon. For another, its extraction can be environmentally damaging and controversial - and the bulk of it takes place in one developing country, the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Whereas most lithium (another essential battery element) occurs as a “primary product” in the form of brines or ores, most cobalt must be produced as a by-product of copper and nickel mines, according to a report published by McKinsey & Company in 2018. Now, the growing adoption of electric vehicles means that demand for cobalt should increase by 60% by 2025, according to the report - and research & development efforts to find technologies capable of mitigating or even eliminating it as a necessity are crucial. Related efforts are underway, for example in terms of the development of the NMC 811 battery (“nickel, manganese and cobalt”), which uses three times less cobalt than existing models. Lingering issues with the practical use of the relatively energy-dense NMC 811 (including a limited number of charge-discharge life cycles) are expected to be ironed out in the coming years. Other types of advances are also being made. New materials for the cathodes that underpin batteries are being explored, for example; scientists at Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York reported in 2018 that they had synthesized a cathode material from iron fluoride that increases battery capacity. New concepts like lithium-air batteries, which can potentially enable relatively high energy density thanks to requiring fewer chemicals inside of a battery than traditional models, are also being explored. Funding is essential to make significant progress in battery technology, as are dedicated institutions and initiatives. The Faraday Institution in the United Kingdom, founded in 2017 to focus on electrical storage technologies for the automotive and other industries, announced in late 2019 it would grant up to £55 million to consortia trying to improve batteries for transportation and storage. Meanwhile the European Commission’s “Battery 2030+” initiative aims to mobilize researchers around the development of new battery technologies.

Battery Research and Development

KEY TRENDS

Next Generation Batteries