It powers portable electronics and it powers electric vehicles, which should top 100 million on the road by 2030. But the battery pack is the most expensive part of an EV, accounting for about 30% of the total cost.
To lower the price and produce models as affordable as a combustion engine, research teams around the world are racing to improve EV batteries.
One team that believes it's made a giant leap forward with new cathode chemistry is led by Dr. Huolin Xin, a professor at University of California Irvine, who says, "This material cycles so well. It cycles thousands of cycles without losing charge."
Currently, one of two electrodes in lithium-ion batteries, the cathode, commonly uses nickel, manganese and cobalt as key ingredients.
But the price of cobalt has nearly tripled over the past few years and more than 70% is mined in Congo, which for years has been accused of human rights abuses in its mining operations.
Knowing the damage to young people is what Dr. Houlin says inspired him to act.
"We've got to think about the children in the Republic of Congo. So really, freeing them from mining this toxic mineral is really one of the things that we know in our heart we need to do as a society."
Dr. Houlin wanted to eliminate cobalt, which his team has done, while substantially increasing the watt-hour-per-kilogram energy density with his patented cathode chemistry which he believes will become commonplace very soon.
"This is the material that will dominate the lithium-ion battery market in the next few years."
Cathode research is decades old, but Dr. Houlin believes his breakthrough has the potential to add another 50% of additional energy in a next-generation cathode and the process to manufacture his cathodes can be integrated into existing processes.
"That means you can build another factory exactly the same as your old one to scale it up. Or you can simply swap your things out. Swap the precursor out and you're making our cathode chemistry and fully cobalt-free," says Dr. Houlin.
Ease of integration, increased energy and Dr. Houlin says his materials also have extremely high thermal stability, which means if your battery cells are safer, you are safer.