Lithium-ion batteries are not limited to phones anymore. Electric vehicles are becoming more popular, and their sales are expected to double by the end of the decade.
However, the demand for rare Earth metals, even with new sources, is surpassing the available supply.
To address this, researchers from various universities and government laboratories have formed the DRX Consortium. The Consortium aims to develop commercial applications for disordered rock salt (DRX) as a battery cathode material.
Computational modeling suggests that DRX could be an ideal cathode material. Researchers are currently testing numerous cathode formulations.
Success in this project could reduce or eliminate the need for nickel and cobalt in batteries.
Integrating DRX cathodes into batteries could potentially triple their energy density, allowing electric vehicles to travel farther on a single charge. This advancement is significant because nickel is expected to become scarce by 2027. Meanwhile, cobalt extraction in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is associated with environmental and human rights concerns.
The advantage of DRX lies in its cubic structure, which enables it to absorb more lithium ions. Unlike traditional lithium-ion batteries that use layered cathodes with cobalt and nickel, DRX cathodes offer three-dimensional ion movement without the need for cobalt.
According to ExtremeTech, early DRX formulations are using transition metals like manganese or titanium. These metals are more abundant and economical alternatives to cobalt and nickel.
Like other proposed battery advancements, this particular one is not a perfect solution. The team is satisfied with the energy density of experimental batteries containing DRX cathodes, but the issue lies in their longevity.
Over time, as batteries are charged and discharged, the cathode and anode undergo physical strain. This leads to reduced battery capacity.
Currently, DRX batteries deteriorate at a faster rate than conventional lithium-ion batteries. This would make the replacement of DRX electric vehicle batteries a costly and complex endeavor. As a result, the researchers are currently directing their efforts toward improving battery longevity.
DRX batteries could undergo their first tests in electric vehicles within the next five years.
Check out this video below for more information.
Image Source: IEEE Spectrum, https://shorturl.at/bEV19