MIT Scientists Develop Long-Lasting, Cobalt-Free Batteries for EVs

The new low-cost material can be charged faster than cobalt batteries

January 25, 2024


A new lithium-ion battery, which includes a cathode based on organic materials instead of metals such as cobalt or nickel, has been designed by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Electric vehicles (EVs) are powered by lithium-ion batteries, which commonly contain cobalt and nickel; the former has been associated with high financial, environmental, and social costs.

In a new study in the journal ACS Central Science, the researchers have proven that this new material, which can be produced at a much lower cost than batteries containing cobalt, can conduct electricity at rates similar to those of these batteries. The new battery can be charged up faster with comparable storage capacity than cobalt batteries.

“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,” said Mircea Dincă, the W.M. Keck Professor of Energy at MIT. She added that this material could potentially have a big impact.

Most EVs are powered by lithium-ion batteries, which have a cathode made of cobalt, a metal known for its high stability and energy density. But as a scarce metal, cobalt extraction has been associated with hazardous working conditions and the generation of toxic waste that contaminates the surrounding land, air, and water.

As a result, a lot of research is being done to scope out alternatives for cobalt. Researchers at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) also developed a method that offers a long-lasting alternative made of nickel. Japan-based Toshiba Corporation also developed a lithium-ion battery that was cobalt-free and cathode material, which significantly suppressed the gases produced from operations.

The researchers at MIT mention that the primary materials needed to manufacture this type of cathode are a quinone precursor and an amine precursor, both of which are already commercially available and produced in large quantities as commodity chemicals.

They further estimate that the material cost of assembling these organic batteries could be about one-third to one-half the cost of cobalt batteries.

These developments if they come to fruition might hamper Indonesia’s plans to capitalize on the metal, as its global output share is estimated to touch 19% by 2030.

In India, Reliance New Energy Limited also recently acquired all assets of Lithium Werks, a  cobalt-free lithium-ion phosphate battery manufacturer, at $61 million in 2022.