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Scientists believe extremely abundant material could be key to revolutionizing EV batteries: 'We don't have time to wait'

"A very promising technology that could provide reliable yet inexpensive and abundant energy storage."

"A very promising technology that could provide reliable yet inexpensive and abundant energy storage."

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The cousin of one of the most abundant minerals on Earth could be a game-changer for electric vehicles. 

As detailed by IEEE Spectrum, a team of researchers headed by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory believe that disordered rock salt, or DRX, could be used to create energy-dense batteries without nickel or cobalt that would result in EVs with longer ranges.

"Our materials have showed good performance, but one main thing we're working on is to improve battery-cycle life with DRX materials in it," Guoying Chen, a research scientist at Berkeley Lab and co-leader of the DRX Consortium, told the outlet. "You want these materials to last for a long time in an EV battery."

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In 2019, the United Nations Secretariat laid out its action plan to significantly eliminate dirty-energy pollution driving the overheating of our planet, and transitioning to EVs for unavoidable car trips can help reduce levels of carbon dioxide, a heat-trapping gas.  

However, as IEEE Spectrum pointed out, the demand for the minerals used in traditional EV batteries is "starting to skyrocket," with intelligence firm S&P Global predicting shortages of nickel and cobalt by 2027. 

Acquiring the minerals is also an energy-intensive, polluting process that comes with humanitarian concerns — particularly in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is known for its cobalt mines, according to the World Economic Forum.

In contrast, DRX is cheaper and easier to harvest, which could not only reduce pollution associated with the production of EVs but also bring down the prices of the vehicles. Batteries that use DRX don't need either cobalt or nickel as a stabilizer because of the mineral's cubic crystal structure. 

"You can use a lot of different transition metals," Chen explained. "... All these years, traditional lithium-ion cathode materials have relied on nickel and cobalt, but now all of a sudden we have a versatile, flexible space. Sustainability is really a big advantage."

Research is still underway after the official launch of the DRX Consortium in October 2022, with IEEE Spectrum noting that "different teams are working on computational modeling to come up with new and improved chemical compositions for DRX cathodes."

The team hopes a product will be ready for demonstration and commercialization within five years. 

"DRX is a very promising technology that could provide reliable yet inexpensive and abundant energy storage. But this has to happen soon — not in 30 years, but now. We don't have time to wait — and the DRX Consortium will help us get there," Gerbrand Ceder, the principal investigator of the research, said in a statement for Berkeley Lab in September. 

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