The Good, Bad and Nerdy: Alternatives to Lithium-ion Batteries

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Submitted Liz Clarey - A Pennsylvania voter living in the Czech Republic.

 

This past summer has seen a lot of movement toward electric vehicles (EVs). The Inflation Reduction Act will provide tax credits for EV purchases, and California, the largest car market in the US, announced they would ban the sale of gasoline-powered vehicles by 2035. This means an increasing demand for lithium-ion batteries, which power EVs (in addition to smartphones, laptops, and power grids!). Lithium batteries are efficient and can store energy for a long period of time.

However, the metal is not completely environmentally friendly. Lithium is either mined from rock or extracted from brine and freshwater through an evaporation process. Unfortunately, lithium mining can pollute surrounding environments, and brine evaporation requires enormous amounts of water. Lithium costs are expected to skyrocket with increased demand, and there are concerns about its increasing scarcity.

Scientists are coming up with alternatives to lithium. Here’s the good and the bad (and the nerdy) about a few that are in the works:

 

Alternative

Good

Bad

Salt and/or Seawater

Salt is a close chemical sibling of lithium. It’s plentiful and doesn’t cause the same environmental destruction.

Salt is 3x heavier than lithium, meaning salt batteries will be heavier. Its charge is also weaker than lithium.

Magnesium

It carries a charge of +2 (lithium carries a charge of +1), so it’s more powerful and safer than lithium.

Research is still in very early development.

Glass spiked with sodium ions.

It’s extremely eco-friendly and outperforms lithium batteries

Scientists are finding it difficult to replicate the original device

Iron

It’s proved to be more efficient and stores renewable energy for longer

Iron batteries are big, so they can’t be used for phones, laptops, or even EVs. However, it can be used for grid operations.

Silicon

It can be added to lithium batteries, making them cheaper and more effective.

It still requires lithium (though less than current batteries).

Hemp

Proponents say it can outperform lithium in terms of cost, weight, scalability, and effectiveness.

Research is still in early development.