The lithium-ion battery is underappreciated for its usage in various devices and machines. These include tablets, smartphones, power tools, laptops, hybrid vehicles, power walls, and electric cars. One of the battery’s major components is cobalt. Experts believe that because of the high demand from the lithium-ion battery, the availability of cobalt could suffer.
To date, industries are worried that one day they will wake up to a shortage of cobalt. A startup company is presenting a bold idea to help companies sort the best batteries for their products and services. The company could even find an alternative for cobalt.
Wildcat Discovery Technologies is a private company widely known because of its contribution in discovering and developing specialty resources for clean tech energy applications. In 2008, they started focusing on creating top of the line materials for primary and rechargeable batteries.
According to the California-based startup, they use exclusive synthesis and testing platforms in order to go through different materials quickly. The approach of Wildcat Discovery Technologies lessens the cost of R&D and it speeds time to market.
Companies like Volkswagen, Tesla, BMW, Samsung, and Apple are currently making sure that they have a stable supply of cobalt. Because of Wildcat, the burden of finding a substitute element for the lithium-ion battery could be over soon.
Proving that Wildcat Can Do It
Recognizing various gaps in the works of its partners or clients, and developing brand new trials to enhance the areas of research are just two of the many capabilities of Wildcat – and because of that, they were able to come up with a solution to make batteries last longer.
In 2011, the California-based startup created a pair of new materials dubbed as EM1 and CM1. EM1 is a high-voltage electrolyte material, while the CM1 is a high-voltage cathode material. They immensely increase energy compactness.
The development team of Wildcat stated that EM1 and CM1 allow lithium-ion batteries to last between 25% and 65% longer.
Mark Gresser, the CEO of Wildcat Discovery Technologies, mentioned, “This is a breakthrough discovery by our development team, which can lead to batteries capable of storing much energy than current materials allow. When batteries hold more energy, it creates new options for design engineers – electric cars can go farther, tablets, laptops, and smartphones can be smaller with no loss of runtime, soldier packs can be lighter, and implanted medical devices can last longer before the need for replacement surgery. And while our initial tests have shown a 61% improvement in energy density, this is just the beginning – because the EM1 electrolyte is stable at 5-volt operation, it opens the door to the development of a new world of cathode materials that should bring even greater advances.”
Wildcat has not yet discovered a replacement for cobalt, but because of its expertise in primary and rechargeable batteries, it will just be a matter of time.
Is Iron the Answer to the Growing Dilemma?
Gresser and his company, Wildcat Discovery Technologies are striving to be the first ones to discover the probable substitute for cobalt – but it seems like the end of the road for them. Christopher Wolverton, a Professor at McCormick School of Engineering at Northwestern University, and the scientists at Argonne National Laboratory are proposing that iron could be the next big element.
The team was able to create a rechargeable lithium-iron-oxide battery that can produce more lithium ions than the lithium-ion battery that uses cobalt. This means the newly developed battery could make battery-powered vehicles and smartphones last much longer.
Despite the breakthrough, the announcement from Wolverton did not sit well with critics because the inexpensive metal has already failed a couple of times in batteries. It is also said to be unstable.
Wolverson said, “Our computational prediction of this battery reaction is very exciting, but without experimental confirmation, there would be a lot of skeptics. But the fact that it actually works is remarkable.”
Because the research was a success, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Frontier Research Center program vowed to support it. The lithium-iron-oxide battery is also far better than the one that uses cobalt as it has an affordable price.
Now, Wolverton and his team have filed an exclusive right for the battery. In addition, they are planning to use other elements to see if they too could be used as an alternative.
Recycling May be the Solution
Neometals is an Australian startup that has a slightly different approach to the whole lithium-ion battery dilemma. It is planning to build a factory in order to retrieve different raw materials such as lithium, nickel, cobalt, and copper from batteries that are already expired.
The Perth-based company believes that recycling coveted metals from expired electronic and EV batteries can become more lucrative than to mine or extract them from the ground.
According to Mike Tamlin, the Chief Operating Officer at Neometals, “The world needs recycling to stop us drowning in batteries.” He added, “And it also has the potential to produce components at a lower cost. What we are hoping to prove in the pilot plant is that it does provide a better net margin.”
Samsung SDI, which is the number one battery maker in South Korea, is also following the footsteps of Neometals. The well-known lithium-ion battery manufacturer presented plans to recycle batteries and to create lithium-ion batteries without using cobalt.
The team behind Samsung SDI said that they are moving on with the plan to counterbalance the soaring price of cobalt.
Neometals and Samsung SDI are just some of the companies that wanted to help lower the use of cobalt. There is no alternative to the usage of cobalt, but the problem is now being addressed.
Cobalt has been used in lithium-ion batteries for 20 long years. Its existence is important in the growing industry and the market of primary and rechargeable batteries. The companies previously mentioned assure that the success established by cobalt and lithium-ion batteries will not be put to waste.