The demand for Electric Vehicles (EV) is skyrocketing. According to data by International Energy Agency (IEA), “sales of electric cars hit 6.6 million in 2021, more than tripling their market share from two years earlier”
But there is a critical shortage of a crucial metal in the development of EVs, lithium, due to supply chain issues. “I think we have already reached a crisis moment,” lithium expert Joe Lowry told ETAuto. “This year demand will outstrip supply of lithium by probably another 50000 tonnes. The automakers are going to face extreme hardships in terms of actually producing the models they have promised.”
Lithium is also notoriously bad for the environment. “There’s a fundamental question behind all this about the model of consumption and production that we now have, which is simply not sustainable,” Thea Riofrancos, a political economist at Providence College in Rhode Island, told the Guardian. “Everyone having an electric vehicle means an enormous amount of mining, refining, and all the polluting activities that come with it.”
In South America, for example, local communities are facing water shortages because lithium reserves are consuming large amounts of water, and 2.2 million liters (528,344 gallons) of water are required to produce one ton of lithium. Next to that, lithium extraction is also harmful to the soil and causes air contamination.
So, what are some of the more sustainable alternatives?
Salt And Sea Water Batteries
It looks like salt is a big contender for a new type of battery. Chinese and British researchers are working together to develop a battery that combines the “performance merits of a solid-oxide fuel cell and a metal-air battery.” This battery is expected to overcome many of the challenges posed by lithium-ion batteries, such as overheating.
“The modified molten salt iron-oxygen battery has great potential applications in new markets, including electric transport and renewable energy which require innovative storage solutions in our homes and at grid-level,” researchers state.
Salt can also be found in seawater, so some experts believe seawater may also hold valuable properties. With this in mind, researchers at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany have developed a seawater battery prototype.
Magnesium seems to be a viable option to rival lithium batteries. Every individual magnesium ion carries double the electrons compared to lithium, which means magnesium batteries could achieve a higher energy density.
”Magnesium batteries are a promising energy storage chemistry,” chemist Brian Ingram told Argonne National Laboratory. “Magnesium batteries are potentially advantageous because they have a more robust supply chain and are more sustainable to engineer, and raw material costs may be less than state-of-the-art lithium-ion batteries.”
At the same time, magnesium-ion batteries are not free of challenges. Since magnesium is a small ion that carries a high electric charge, they interact with surrounding materials.
How about a battery you won’t have to plug in?
In 2018, researchers at the RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, demonstrated a rechargeable “proton battery” that could reinvent the ways we power our cars, but also our homes and devices. “Our latest advance is a crucial step towards cheap, sustainable proton batteries that can help meet our future energy needs without further damaging our already fragile environment,” lead researcher Professor John Andrews said.
The proton battery splits protons from water and stores them inside the battery. This way, the batteries could be charged at the fuel pump rather than at the plug, once an appropriate device is found to channel it.
We have hemp clothes, food, building supplies, and even car parts, but we may one day also have a hemp battery on the market. Texas-based Bemp Research Corp (BEMP) states that its Lithium-Sulphur batteries “will help electrify cars, trucks and is the only viable option for electric commercial flight.”
While BEMP is convinced that its hemp batteries will be an industry game-changer and the supply chain issues will be resolved, the batteries do rely on the mining of sulfur and boron, which can cause environmental damage. Sign this petition for a Federal Stimulus package to replace diesel buses with clean electric buses.
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