PORTLAND, Ore. — A research team led by Oregon State University plans to develop a new rechargeable battery that could reduce the need for environmentally destructive mining of rare minerals like nickel and lithium and accelerate the transition to clean energy.

The U.S. Department of Energy awarded OSU $3 million to explore the development of new rechargeable battery technology that would accelerate the transition to clean energy without relying on rare finite minerals such as lithium, cobalt and nickel. OSU chemistry professor Xiulei “David” Ji, who will lead a battery research team, said it could be a game-changer.

“It’s a new paradigm,” he told Oregon Public Broadcasting. “We are very excited and very grateful to have this opportunity to work on this project.”

As the world shifts from fossil fuels to clean energy to reduce contributions to climate change, there is a growing need for batteries to store renewable energy and power electric vehicles. The resulting battery boom has raised environmental concerns due to the impacts of mining battery materials such as lithium, and it has driven up prices and demand for the minerals used to make batteries.

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According to the International Energy Agency, an organization that provides data analysis for global energy policies, the world could face lithium shortages by 2025. The price of lithium has soared, tripling in 2021. Nickel, a mineral used for lithium-ion batteries, has also increased demand and seen price increases.

Ji, who will lead a team of researchers from Howard University, the University of Maryland and Vanderbilt University, said relying on these minerals is unsustainable and expensive. He said meeting clean energy goals soon will require moving away from relatively rare finite minerals.

His plan is to explore anionic batteries that provide the necessary components without using limited minerals like those used by lithium batteries and which could potentially increase the amount of energy a battery can hold.

“New battery chemistry doesn’t have to rely on these elements,” Ji said. “That’s the advantage of the new chemistry. This changes things.

Ji said the main market for these batteries would be electric vehicles, but he doesn’t rule out the possibility of anion batteries being used by large-scale utilities, such as Portland General Electric’s solar, wind and battery facilities. . He also said they could be commercialized soon and used in homes.

It’s something Meredith Connolly, executive director of the nonprofit Climate Solutions, is looking forward to.

She said that powering the economy with 100% clean electricity from wind and solar power is a key part of reducing fossil fuels, and batteries are an essential part of achieving a transition to a clean energy.

“Part of the technological magic that batteries provide is the ability to store wind power when the wind is blowing and solar power when the sun is shining, then deploy that renewable energy when there is no wind. or the sun goes down,” she said.

As electric vehicle production increases, Connolly said, batteries need to be sourced and recycled sustainably to reuse raw materials.

Oregon is one of many states offering generous incentives and rebates for switching from gas-powered to electric vehicles. Recently, the state began offering qualified residents up to $7,500 for a new electric vehicle. So far, more than 50,000 electric vehicles are registered in the state. Oregon is also investing $100 million to build charging infrastructure on major highways and in rural areas to meet demand for electric vehicles on the road.