University of Maryland researchers have discovered that crustacean shells contain a chemical called chitin that can be used to create EV batteries. (“Crustacean” is the name of the animal family that includes crabs and lobsters.)
Chitin-zinc batteries use naturally occurring electrolytes to transport ions between the positive and negative ends of the batteries. The batteries are biodegradable and break down in soil within five months, leaving behind recyclable zinc. The University of Maryland study found that these chitin-zinc batteries were 99.7% efficient after 400 hours of use and could be produced at a low cost.
Chitin-zinc batteries have tremendous advantages over the lithium-ion batteries used in most EVs. Lithium-ion batteries require an enormous amount of water; it takes 1900 tons of water to mine one ton of lithium. Lithium-ion batteries also take up to 100 years to decompose.
Moreover, there are massive supply chain issues with lithium-ion batteries. In spite of the US’s abundant lithium resources, there is currently only one operational lithium mine in the country. The vast majority of America’s lithium needs to be imported from Argentina, Chile, China, and Russia. These supply chain issues have contributed to lithium carbonate prices increasing by more than 500% since the start of 2021. Left unaddressed, lithium shortages could stymie the plans of Elon Musk and others to bring down EV prices.
By contrast, there are billions of crustaceans around the world. With proper ecological protection, the supply of chitin from crabs and lobsters is virtually limitless.
Although it will take time for chitin-zinc EV batteries to be mass-produced, the results of the University of Maryland study are extremely exciting. The shortcomings of lithium-ion batteries are a major focus of EV critics. By addressing these shortcomings, chitin-zinc batteries are likely to dramatically increase public acceptance of EVs.
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