Cell phones and other devices currently equipped with lithium batteries might be powered with a new mineral one day, Nature reports.
Researchers are working on calcium-based batteries, which could one day lead to mass manufacturing and provide a “safer and cheaper” material for batteries than lithium, Nature says. “Batteries with anodes made of calcium — a more abundant substance — might be more sustainable and safer than batteries with lithium anodes.”
Lithium-ion batteries have been used in mobile devices for years, partly due their ability to be recharged. But they have drawbacks, Nature reports: they require “scarce and toxic substances” like lithium and cobalt to operate, and can even catch fire. Popular Mechanics adds to list of lithium battery cons: lithium has a “limited physical nature” of output in certain countries, and creates “environmental havoc” during its extraction, “which often requires heavy water consumption.”
Researchers at the Helmholtz Institute Ulm in Germany have successfully created a new type of calcium salt that has been able to conduct electricity “more effectively than any calcium-based electrolyte ever reported.” It was also able to conduct ions at higher voltages than other calcium-based electrolytes, Nature says.
While strides have been made in calcium-based batteries, researchers currently lack a suitable electrolyte – the material located inside a battery that carries an electric charge – to make the technology as efficient as possible. As a result, it will take some time to see calcium batteries replace lithium batteries.
Until more research has fine tuned calcium battery technology, decision makers who work with lithium batteries might consider the benefits that calcium batteries may one day offer:
- Calcium is the fifth most abundant element in Earth’s crust, Popular Mechanics reports, which means it would be easier to harvest.
- It lacks the ability to catch fire and pose a safety hazard.
- It can be scaled to be used in industrial systems, and can store wind and solar energy.