ESPcat – The Dirty Business of Making Batteries

So what is it that has got Villi and Manili thinking? You can see just how excited they are! I know that you’re thinking that I don’t know what they are thinking but I think I do. These guys are thinking about the dirty business of making EV batteries. The kind of batteries that are used in Electric Vehicles and the ESPcat (Electric Solar Powered Catamaran).

My friends at Tesla tell me that key patents held in China, for making LiFePo batteries, are about to expire.(1) How sad! It is totally exciting because it means that Tesla can now switch to making LiFePo (Lithium Iron Phosphate) batteries outside China. All Tesla cars except the really expensive, long range models will use the older technology, slightly heavier, LiFePo batteries. Really? Who cars? Well we should all care because LiFePo batteries don’t use nickel and cobalt like today’s lithium-ion batteries.

It seems that cobalt mining in particular, is a nasty business and the quicker that industry moves away from cobalt for battery manufacture the better it will be for the world. (2)

A child and a woman break rocks at a copper quarry and cobalt pit in Lubumbashi, DRC.

Cobalt mining (2)

Capitalism is a great system but capitalists just can’t help exploiting people if they get a chance to make a buck. Sure enough, nickel mining isn’t much better for the environment than cobalt mining.(3)

Mining siltation in the Philippines
Nickel mining (3)

But wait! There’s more! The dirty business of making batteries just keeps getting less dirty. EV naysayers have been saying for years that EVs are just as destructive for the environment as oil powered cars and on some level they are correct. It is true that EV battery manufacturing has been hard on the environment but that is all about to change. Removing nickel and cobalt from batteries by switching to LiFePo is just the first step. The next step will be removing the lithium from lithium batteries!

Researchers are neck deep in the business of inventing new batteries with the lithium being replaced by common elements such as sodium, aluminum or even iron. Our cousins at GMG in Australia, working with the University of Queensland, have invented the Aluminum Graphene battery that uses mostly (you guessed it) aluminum and graphene (a new form of carbon).(4) GMG claim that the new batteries will be cheaper, lighter, faster charging and much better for the environment than the usual, everyday lithium-ion batteries.

Aluminium-ION BATTERY | Graphene Manufacturing Group | GMG
GMG is in partnership with UOQ (4)

If GMG don’t get their ideas working, there are several other technologies exploding onto the market. The dirty business of making EV batteries will soon be just a bad memory.

(1) https://www.cnet.com/roadshow/news/tesla-battery-switch-lifepo-standard-range/

(2) https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2019/dec/18/how-the-race-for-cobalt-risks-turning-it-from-miracle-metal-to-deadly-chemical

(3) https://www.treehugger.com/electric-car-batteries-are-going-to-need-a-lot-of-nickel-5076387

(4) https://graphenemg.com/energy-storage-solutions/aluminum-ion-battery/

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