IBM Develops the Next Generation Battery

This new battery is made without heavy metals and outperforms its lithium-ion alternative.

Mar 12, 2020

(Sergii Chernov / Shutterstock.com)

Choosing to consume sustainably and ethically-sourced products can be easy at times. Chocolate and coffee, for example, can be found with clearly marked labels, such as Fair-Trade and Rainforest Alliance, informing consumers of humanitarian and ecological practices.

With technology, however, the option to consume consciously has been less available. But, this may change as IBM breaks ground on a new battery that is both sustainably and ethically sourced. But what is also impressive is that this next generation battery is capable of out-performing the lithium-ion battery in a number of critical and game-changing ways.

According to an IBM blog, the company has made incredible headway on an innovation that not only functions better than conventional lithium-ion batteries but could actually eliminate the need for heavy metals such as iron, cobalt and nickel in battery production.

Heavy metals, especially cobalt, have received negative attention for being mined in exploitative and unethical ways. Instead, the company’s invention makes use of three new materials, which have no recorded history of being combined to form a battery before according to Young-hye Na, IBM’s manager of materials innovation for next-gen batteries.

In fact, the materials for the newest battery, which include lithium iodide and a new and proprietary electrolyte formulation, are sourced in the last place you would expect – seaweed, and can be extracted in a way that is much less invasive than mining.

The company said that initial tests show that the battery will be safer, cheaper, and charge faster than the lithium-ion battery, which can have tremendous implications for advancements in smart-grid and electric vehicle technology. In fact, research shows that the battery will be able to reach an 80 percent charge in only five minutes!

The technology also has a high-power density, which allows for a smaller battery size. Both these components can contribute significantly to the feasibility of electric transport, such as aircrafts and even flying vehicles.

"In the quickly evolving arena of flying vehicles and electric aircrafts, having access to batteries with very high-power density, which can scale a power load quickly, is critical," said Na,

While the battery is not available commercially just yet, the company hopes to have the first working prototype ready within a year. IBM has even partnered with three other companies – Mercedes-Benz Research and Development North America, Central Glass, a battery electrolyte supplier and Sidus, a battery manufacturer – to expedite the products’ development.

"All three companies are working together to try to make this a commercial reality in as little time as possible,” Bob Allen, Senior manager of chemistry and materials research at IBM Research told GreenBiz. ”.

The new battery is still being tested and there is no official timetable for when it will reach the market. "Transformative technologies need to be able to scale," Allen said but the company believes that it will only take two years.

And with the far-reaching potential for electric transportation and the environmental sustainability, we sure hope that IBM has it right.

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HILLA BENZAKEN, CONTRIBUTOR
Hilla Benzaken is a dedicated optimist. Her happy place involves cooking, acting, gardening, and fighting for social justice. She writes about all things sustainability, innovation, and DIY.