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The success of energy storage lies in sustainability, and researchers across the national labs are pushing the limits of traditional lithium-ion technologies towards a more diverse and secure future.
Color-coded, high-resolution microscopy image showing grain boundaries within a complex, Mn-rich cathode material (top) and model of atomic-level mechanisms at the grain boundary (middle). Image by Sharifi-Asl et al. (ACS 2020), Croy & Garcia et al. (J Power Sources 2020).

In collaboration with four national laboratories, including NREL, ORNL, LBNL, and PNNL,  Argonne National Laboratory is leading the way in efforts to design and enable novel electrodes that utilize zero cobalt and take advantage of earth-abundant elements such as manganese.

Lithium-ion batteries are a keystone in the technologies that drive the modern world. Portable electronics, electric vehicles, and even the promise of battery-powered flight, all rely on the remarkable abilities and potential of Li-based energy storage. However, with the growing demand for batteries across the globe it is now clear that future technologies must be based in sustainability. Materials development for energy storage must include strategies for earth-abundant elements, diverse supply chains, and recycling. Substantial opportunities in this regard can be found in the discovery and development of new oxides for use as cathode-electrodes in Li-ion cells. Currently, most lithium-ion batteries contain cathodes that utilize cobalt, an element that has received much attention over future sustainability, supply and demand, and geopolitical concerns.

The Next-Gen Cathode Deep Dive consortium, funded by DOE’s Vehicle Technologies Office, is tasked with designing materials and processes that allow for high performance of very low- and no-cobalt cathodes. Advanced theory and modeling, synchrotron characterization, and unique synthesis and processing capabilities are being utilized in parallel to show that strategies do exist for enabling sustainable cathode chemistries. The program has successfully demonstrated low- and no-cobalt electrode performance under standardized VTO protocols, patented several technologies related electrode doping and surface stabilization, and published new insights on the theory of such materials.

Efforts within the program are now shifting focus with the goal of enabling cathode designs that utilize ~100% earth-abundant elements. Electrodes based in manganese that take advantage of Ti, Al, Fe, Mg and the like will be pursued along with electrochemical analysis and technoeconomic modeling in order to inform materials design towards practical implementation.