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Scientists achieve remarkable breakthrough that could revolutionize electric vehicles: 'We are just replacing one thing'

A new type of lithium-ion battery could help make electric vehicles cheaper, safer, and more sustainable.

A new type of lithium-ion battery could help make electric vehicles cheaper, safer, and more sustainable.

Photo Credit: iStock

A new type of lithium-ion battery could help make electric vehicles cheaper, safer, and more sustainable — all thanks to the power of iron.

Yes, that's right — scientists have developed an innovative iron-based cathode material that could replace pricier and rarer metals like cobalt and nickel, paving the way for EV batteries that are easier on the wallet and the planet, according to Interesting Engineering.

What makes iron such a game-changer? As the cheapest metal commodity, iron costs a fraction of those indispensable but expensive metals currently used in high-energy lithium-ion batteries.

By transforming iron's reactivity through a specially designed chemical blend, the researchers enable iron to provide a higher energy density than today's top cathode materials. That means EVs could go farther on a single charge while costing far less than they do today.

This breakthrough, co-led by Oregon State University chemistry professor Xiulei "David" Ji, didn't happen overnight. The team spent years crafting a unique mix of fluorine and phosphate anions that allow reversible conversion between iron powder, lithium fluoride, lithium phosphate, and iron salts, per IE.

The upshot? Iron can now be used in the battery cathode without needing to change anything else in current battery designs or production. These findings were published in the journal Science Advances.

As Ji explained, per Interesting Engineering, "to put this new cathode in applications, one needs to change nothing else — no new anodes, no new production lines, no new design of the battery. We are just replacing one thing, the cathode."

Here's the exciting part: Iron isn't just cheap; it's also abundant as the fourth-most common element in the Earth's crust. "We will not run out of iron till the sun turns into a red giant," Ji noted in the IE report.

Iron-based batteries are a big leap forward in safety and sustainability compared to using cobalt and conventional lithium-ion elements. There are no more worries about battery materials contaminating ecosystems or water sources.

Ultimately, this ironclad solution tackles some of the biggest roadblocks to EV adoption. By enabling higher energy density, greater safety, and lower costs, iron cathodes clear the path for electric cars and trucks to become the norm, not the exception.

Plus, by expanding access to pollution-free transportation, this breakthrough helps put the brakes on extreme weather events that threaten our communities and food supply.

While there's no definite timeline yet for these iron-based EV batteries to hit the streets, one thing's for certain: With scientists and innovators working tirelessly to unlock cleaner, greener technologies, the future of transportation looks brighter every day.

Together, we're building a world where getting around is gentler on our wallets and our planet.

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