The US’s Argonne National Laboratory has basically cracked the battery technology used in electric vehicles. It discovered a way to increase the driving range of standard EVs by a minimum of a thousand miles. It claims it will do this cheaply and without exhausting the global supply critical minerals.
The Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT), has collaborated to achieve a dramatic increase in the energy density of lithium-ion battery cells. Today’s lithium-ion batteries are capable of storing 200 watt-hours per kilogram (Wh/kg). The laboratory experiment reached 675 Wh/kg using a lithium-air version.
This density is sufficient to power trucks, trains and, arguably, mid-haul planes. It was long believed that electrification would not be possible due to its high density. It could reach 1,200 Wh/kg, according to the team. It is possible to decarbonize almost all global transport more quickly than we think, with a net loss of cost relative to maintaining the status quo in hydrocarbons.
Chicago’s Argonne Laboratory isn’t the only one pushing the limits of energy storage and EV tech. Every month, the specialist press is reporting eye-watering breakthroughs. America, Europe and Japan all participate in a global fever for battery dominance or survival. Hedge funds are flooding the field.
This paper is highlighted because US national laboratories have AAA credibility. This peer-reviewed study has been published in Science. Their solid-state battery achieved the highest energy density ever seen anywhere in the globe. Sometimes you need to choose one to tell a bigger story.
According to the science paper, the process could theoretically deliver an energy density comparable to gasoline. This is a stunning thought that dispels some stubborn beliefs. It’s not feasible right now, but it could be in the distant future. It usually takes five to six breakthroughs in battery technology before manufacturing can be achieved.
Larry Curtiss, Professor, was the project leader. He told me that his battery doesn’t require cobalt. This eliminates the need to rely on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which produces 74pc of the world’s production. is now an economic colony of China for the extraction of raw material.
Beijing already has a hold on the supply chain by acquiring or controlling three quarters the major cobalt mines in the DRC. Russia is the third largest. Russia plans to increase that share by removing the marine bed from the Pacific coast.
The United Nations and activist groups have confirmed that cobalt mining is a human and ecological disaster in the DRC. Around 40,000 children work in toxic conditions in small, artisanal mines. It is synonymous with North-South exploitation.
The horrors of cobalt supply chains have been exploited by fossil “realists”, i.e. Putin’s cyberbots and vested interests to undermine the moral claims of the green-energy transition. This attack should be made more difficult by the Argonne-IIF technology.
Professor Curtiss stated that the current prototype was based on lithium, but it doesn’t have to be. The same type of battery could also be made with sodium. He said that although it will take longer, it can be done. While switching to sodium would reduce the driving range by half, it would still provide twice as much power as current generation batteries.
Sodium can be found everywhere. There are also deposits in Cheshire, Ulster, and Dorset. There are vast salt lakes in the USA and Canada. Seawater from hot regions can be used to produce sodium cheaply by evaporation. There is no shortage.
Another myth has been dispelled: the EV revolution cannot be achieved on a global scale due to a lack of lithium or a low cost in countries aligned with Western democracies. However, the copper shortage is much more severe. But graphene and aluminium may offer solutions.
According to the International Energy Agency, lithium demand will increase 20 fold by 2040 if existing battery technology is used. Australia is the world’s largest producer of lithium today. The Lithium Triangle, Argentina, Bolivia and Chile have the largest long-term lithium deposits. These countries are currently in discussions to form an OPEC-style Lithium cartel. China’s Tianqui holds 22 percent of Chile’s SQM group, which is the second-largest lithium miner in the world.
The solution is a lithium recycling industry. In the end, lithium can still be extracted from seawater. However, it is extremely diluted at 180 parts/billion. Research suggests that it could still be isolated for $5 per kilo. The lithium scare could be another in a long line of seemingly insurmountable obstacles that will fall away over time. These false scares are part of the march to clean-tech.
The Argonne-IIF uses a liquid electrolyte that is made of a ceramic polymer based upon nanoparticles. It’s for readers who have a better understanding of chemistry than I do. This requires expensive materials.
At room temperature, it can produce four molecules instead of the usual two or three. It can extract oxygen from the air surrounding it to start the reaction. This solves a problem that has hindered development for over a decade. It can withstand over 1,000 cycles of charging or discharging. It’s safer than current batteries and is less likely to catch on fire.
The Argonne IIF battery and other global breakthroughs demonstrate that energy science is moving at such a rapid pace that even five years ago it was impossible to see the future. We will soon be seeing a completely different technological landscape by the end of the decade.
Last week, Germany and Italy succeeded in blocking EU plans to ban petrol and diesel sales by 2030. The fate of the combustion engine has been sealed by Moore’s Law, and the learning curve that comes with new technology.
Legacy companies can’t save the money they have invested in fossil motors. The EU must retreat into fortress protectionionism to avoid economic suicide. To attempt to save Europe’s car industry would be to ensure its total destruction. It is possible to save it by electrifying before its global competitors do.
The future battery technology will end the need for hydrogen in cars, vans and trucks. It may also be used for trains and aircraft. It is absurd to think that there would be any energy loss. It is cheaper and more efficient for electrifying wherever possible.
The value of clean hydrogen is too high to waste. It’s needed to replace the hydrogen used in industry. It is needed for fertilizers, green steel, container shipping and long-term storage in salt aquifers to support renewables in the event of a Dunkelflaute. It is not necessary for road transport.
Ministers and corporate bosses should follow the scientific literature around the world. Otherwise, you’ll be wiped out.