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Scientists design promising new material to solve major issue with lithium-ion batteries: 'It is already competitive with incumbent technologies'

"I think this material could have a big impact because it works really well."

"I think this material could have a big impact because it works really well."

Photo Credit: iStock

An encouraging battery innovation has been announced by geniuses from labs at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 

They have developed a cathode based on organic materials instead of costly cobalt or nickel, a huge stride in the ongoing effort to replace the scarce metals in lithium-ion batteries with a more sustainable option. 

What's more, the material could cost far less, can store a similar amount of electricity, and can charge faster, per the MIT team's university report. 

"I think this material could have a big impact because it works really well," MIT Professor Mircea Dincă said in the report. "It is already competitive with incumbent technologies, and it can save a lot of the cost and pain and environmental issues related to mining the metals that currently go into batteries."

In a common lithium-ion battery, often used in electric vehicles, ions move between the anode and cathode in a chemical substance called electrolyte as the power pack charges and discharges. 

Silicon is being studied by numerous experts as a better anode substitute in the inventions transforming the way we travel, with more range and fast charging times as a focal point. 

MIT's unique cathode counterpart is made from layers of a small molecule called bis-tetraaminobenzoquinone. While it might be the longest word you read this year, it's also a unique molecule with "three fused hexagonal rings," which extend on all sides to create a structure similar to graphite, also a proven battery material. Thanks to chemistry that helps to form hydrogen bonds, the organic material is stable and insoluble, according to MIT's experts. 

"One of the main methods of degradation for organic materials is that they simply dissolve into the battery electrolyte and cross over to the other side of the battery, essentially creating a short circuit. If you make the material completely insoluble, that process doesn't happen, so we can go to over 2,000 charge cycles with minimal degradation," Dincă said in the summary.

Dincă's cathode journey started about six years ago when the expert was working on a project for Lamborghini.

As the research developed, the team added "filler" substances to the cathode, including rubber and cellulose, which stabilized it without greatly reducing performance. The experts noted that the main "precursor" materials needed for their cathode are "commercially available." 

Better yet, they think the materials could make the batteries cost half as much as cobalt versions. It's promising enough tech that Lamborghini licensed the patent on it, per MIT. 

As part of the ongoing research, Dincă's team plans to investigate lithium-replacement alternatives, as well. The tech could soon help lower prices in an EV market already becoming competitive with gas-guzzlers. 

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