3 Plant and Carbon Battery Solutions that Could Replace Traditional EV Batteries
Many elements in electric vehicle (EV) batteries are obtained from rare and toxic sources. Wouldn’t it be awesome if EV battery components came from a farm instead of a mine? Good news! Plant and carbon batteries are on the way! Sort of.
Researchers and startups around the globe are exploring how to use plant materials to make essential battery components including carbon cathodes and anodes. Some breakthroughs are appearing on the horizon.
You might not be able to put a battery with hemp in an EV today, but that day may be closer than you think!
The problem with lithium-ion batteries
Lithium-ion batteries are widely used for EVs because of their high energy density. They are also efficient, perform well at high temperatures, and are generally preferred over other options. They’re great! They can definitely shift reliance on fossil fuels.
But here’s the thing. They use a lot of rare and toxic metals like nickel, manganese, and cobalt. The demand for these rare metals is also exploding with the EV market, and the supply is becoming unsustainable.
Efforts to build up a recycling infrastructure for EV batteries are already underway, but there are some real challenges. First off, there’s a limited capacity for battery recycling. The current infrastructure will be overwhelmed after the first generations of EV vehicles start reaching their end of life. Also, one of the main recycling methods, smelting, isn’t very environmentally friendly.
Recycling also doesn’t really address the reliance on toxic or rare metals. It just makes something unsustainable less unsustainable.
For more on the state of EV batteries and recycling solutions, check out our previous article.
Plants to the rescue!
An important hurdle to clear for a sustainable future depends on finding renewable and recyclable solutions with minimal impact on the environment. In the field of EV batteries, solutions with big potential are beginning to emerge from – you guessed it – plants!
Here are three of the most likely plant-based battery solutions to disrupt lithium-ion batteries in the near future.
EV batteries with hemp
Hemp-based materials are used in an increasingly large swath of applications. These include beverages, oils, and detergents. But they are turning up in manufacturing goods like furniture, interior automotive composites, bioplastics, and the energy and fuel sectors.
Here’s the kicker! In its Sustainable Agriculture Reviews, Springer concludes, “Hemp-based materials are indeed suitable substitutes for many fossil-based materials and applications.”
Texas startup Bemp Research Corporation is taking this claim to the next level by working on a lithium-ion battery alternative with hemp and lithium-sulfur battery technology.
Company founder Son Nguyen claimed in an interview with Energy Tech the superiority of Bemp’s LiS/B4C-hemp battery hemp battery over lithium-ion batteries.
“Our chemistry uses lightweight and abundant materials such as sulfur, boron, and carbonized hemp – instead of heavy metals such as nickel and cobalt. LiS/B4C-hemp batteries will be great for heavy-duty trucks and electric airplanes.”
LiS stands for lithium sulfur, and B4C-hemp for boron carbide made from hemp.
The idea of using hemp in batteries is nothing new. Research in the area began in 2013 and identified hemp’s potential in developing supercapacitors for batteries. Hemp’s robust characteristics, high yield, and industrial applications are causing a renaissance in its production. More than 30 countries grow hemp, with China being the largest producer and exporter, according to Springer.
Sustainable EV batteries from wood
In a battery, current runs through two components known as anodes and cathodes. In EV batteries, carbon is needed for the anodes.
Lithium-ion batteries typically rely on graphite for anode material. As you can probably guess, the demand for graphite has skyrocketed. The E.U. and U.S. have even declared graphite to be a supply critical mineral. What’s more, graphite in EV batteries is one of the main contributors of CO2 emissions from the battery cell components.
Clearly, a shift towards a sustainable solution would be welcome. And that solution could come from – wait for it – plants!
Finnish company, Stora Enso is working on supplying anode materials from tree lignin.
As you probably don’t know, lignin is found in plant cells, cell walls, and between the cells of all vascular plants. It allows liquids to flow in and out of a plant.
Basically, you can thank lignin for that crunch in your vegetables.
The lignin Stora Enso uses for anode material even comes from a by-product of pulp processing. This means producing sustainable battery materials doesn’t increase tree harvesting. Rather, additional value is generated from trees already being processed.
A study supported by the National Research Foundation of Korea suggests the use of lignin may be a key for post lithium-ion technology.
“If we partially replace (synthetic) components with sustainable materials such as lignin, the energy storage or EV technology will be greener. As a result, lignin is processed or recycled for use in rechargeable batteries, and it shows great promise to improve the mechanical stability, ionic conductivity, thermal stability, redox-active material storage, and metal ion storage.”
The coup de grâce: cotton and biomass in dual-carbon batteries!
Researchers keep uncovering new ingredients for bio-derived lithium-ion batteries.
According to the Noveron research group, biomass methods allow for a new generation of lithium-ion batteries that will be lighter, renewable, reusable, and recyclable and have longer operational lifetimes.
Japanese startup PJP Eye has been working on a potential game-changer: plant-based dual-carbon batteries. And they’ve already developed a proof of concept.
Now, you may ask, what’s a dual carbon battery? Simply put, they use carbon for both the cathode and anode. Hence the term “dual.”
So what’s the big deal?
With soaring demand for rare metals and graphite and incomplete infrastructure for recycling lithium-ion batteries, a sustainable solution could blow the doors open for growth in the EV market.
Dual-carbon batteries were first patented in 1989 but were known as dual-graphite batteries at the time. Over the years, there has been a lot of development to make them cost-effective and reliable. Some breakthroughs are beginning to emerge.
PJP Eye’s dual-carbon batteries are high voltage and utilize both cotton and agricultural waste. They also charge 10 times quicker than ones made with commercial lithium. They have the potential to give modern EVs an average range of 500 km (300 miles). The current median range is 375 km (234 mi).
PJP Eye aims to mass-produce them by 2025 for EVs including – get this – ships and even airplanes!
The environmental benefits could be massive as the Net Zero Technology Center notes.
“After conducting a comprehensive lifecycle analysis, (PJP Eye) found that for every 1 megawatt of storage, its batteries emit 1 ton of CO2 while conventional lithium-ion batteries emit 30 tons when compared across a 15-year timeframe. This represents a 97% saving in CO2 emissions.”
While very promising, time will tell whether dual-carbon batteries are the solution they’re cracked up to be.
When will a plant power your car?
As with anything new and exciting, everyone wants to know how much it costs and when it’s going to be available. Sit tight! After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day!
One major hurdle for any new disruptive technology is developing an infrastructure to support large-scale implementation. For a battery made from different materials, creating a viable supply chain and production facilities will take time. Then it faces stiff competition from established lithium-ion battery manufacturers.
There is also the age-old problem of basic economics. How much will consumers be willing to pay to supply electricity to their vehicles?
The added benefits of greater range and quicker charging are certainly strong appeals with sustainability as the cherry on top. And really, what clean energy is greener than a plant?
Dual-carbon batteries are currently generating the biggest buzz. According to one estimate, they could experience a compound annual growth rate of 9% between 2022 and 2027.
“Fast charging capability, cheap manufacturing cost compared to other batteries, and being eco-friendly with 100% recyclable features are the factors that are expected to drive the dual carbon battery market during the forecast period,” writes Mordor Intelligence.
Continuing growth in the EV market will create significant opportunities for cheaper and more sustainable solutions.
The EV battery market appears ripe for plants!