The race to develop the battery of the future includes research to boost its capacity and look for cheaper and more sustainable alternatives to the materials that make it up. This is the case of works that seek to eliminate cobalt. A very rare, expensive material with a deep environmental and humanitarian footprint in its extraction.
Researchers from the Cockrell School of Engineering, University of Texas, have published the results of their work with a cobalt-free battery. An advance that can reduce the cost of battery production while managing to increase battery capacity.
The team has published their advances in the journal Science Daily, where they have confirmed the development of a new cathode, usually the place that contains all the cobalt. But instead, this group of researchers has used a high nickel content, 89%, and manganese and aluminum.
Figures that we can compare with the new NCM 811 cells, which contain 80% nickel, 10% manganese, and 10% cobalt. And that is the most modern cells on the market, where we can find concentrations of up to 30% cobalt.
Thanks to this combination, the Texas team batteries could achieve a significant increase in their energy density, which would translate into batteries with more capacity. And by replacing the expensive cobalt, which is priced at about $28,500 a ton, with much cheaper elements such as nickel and aluminum, it would significantly reduce production costs.
The new NCL 811 cells from CATL already touch 280 Wh/kg: they will exceed 300 Wh/kg by the end of the year. One of the great challenges of this format is its short useful life, and the low capacity rate offered by this combination of metals. Problems that this work claims to have managed to solve. The key to progress lies at the atomic level.
The researchers were able to ensure that the ions of the various metals are successfully distributed evenly throughout the cathode crystal structure during synthesis. When ions are pooled, performance degrades, so keeping them evenly distributed prevents performance loss.
Unfortunately, no specific data has been given from the team, such as the number of charges and discharge cycles that its new cells are capable of achieving—some works that open the doors to make batteries with more energy density, and also cheaper. Without a doubt, a winning combination to which they will have to add in the case of applications such as transport to be able to access fast recharges without affecting their performance.