WHEN JOHN GOODENOUGH created the first lithium-ion rechargeable battery at Oxford in 1980, he needed some cobalt. Experiments had already established that the metal is energy-dense, perfect for small batteries that need a lot of power.1 So Goodenough made the cobalt himself, heating the precursors at very high temperatures.
Today, cobalt appears in most commercial lithium-ion batteries—but it comes at a price. The silvery metal is expensive, yes. But it also has a darker cost: a long history of human rights violations, including child mining, associated with production in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Electronics devices and electric car companies don’t want to pay big bucks and connect themselves with these atrocities, so they have tried to cut down on the amount of cobalt their batteries use. Panasonic, Tesla’s battery supplier, announced at the end of last month that they are developing batteries that don’t need cobalt. And they have some help: Goodenough and other researchers have also developed rechargeable batteries that don’t need cobalt.
Batteries have a positive end, usually graphite, and a cathode, the negative end—a combination of lithium, cobalt, and oxygen in the device you are probably reading this story on.
In electric cars, the cathode is usually more nickel-heavy than in smaller devices—which lessens the strain on the cobalt supply chain, but has higher processing costs and is slightly more likely to catch fire in airplanes a la the infamous Samsung Galaxy Note 7. The electrons on the outer orbit of the cobalt atom are paired up, which means it’s small, dense, and forms layers easily.
For the rest of this article: https://www.wired.com/story/alternatives-to-cobalt-the-blood-diamond-of-batteries/