We have made phenomenal progress electrifying our roads in the last century. Gas guzzling cars are gradually going out of style, and a more economic and environmentally friendly alternative is becoming a universal sight at traffic lights.
Electric powered cars, with Tesla leading the way, are becoming the more responsible and popular option when buying a new car. In the last two years, the percentage of electric vehicles sold in the United States has risen from 2% to 6%. There are around 3 million electric cars in American driveways as of 2022.
Even though serious headway is being made combatting the 7.3 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide emitted by cars each year, the battle is nowhere near won.
Lithium-ion batteries are the most integral part to an electric vehicle, and unfortunately they come with their share of problems. From the destruction of ecosystems to carbon emissions from the growing lithium mining industry, our alternative to fossil fuels might not be so perfect. The average Tesla Model S has 12 kilograms of lithium in its battery.
The mining of lithium is becoming a serious problem as the world, quite rightly, moves away from fossil fuels.
Some are saying hemp is the solution.
Researchers out of Texa-based Bemp Research have developed a new battery, and its key component is hemp. The group’s alternative to lithium-ion batteries is the B4C-hemp lithium sulphur battery. They claim that the hemp-based battery is more environmentally friendly, safer, and all round a better battery than the lithium-ion batteries currently used to power electric vehicles.
The hemp batteries perform better than lithium-ion, as their gravimetric energy density is superior. Meaning there is more available energy per unit mass in the B4C-hemp batteries than lithium-ion.
The groups batteries use hemp and other lightweight and available chemicals like sulphur and boron instead of the destructive and poisonous nickel, cobalt, and lead used when making lithium-ion batteries.
Since hemp creates a cheap, porous, and durable material, it may be a perfect medium for developing batteries. Its properties help solve the majority of issues that have been facing the performance of lithium-ion batteries. While lithium-ion batteries charge, the cathode within the battery contracts and expands, weakening the battery’s performance over time. Hemp offers a viable solution. The material is so durable it can endure contracting and expanding many times over.
Damage to a lithium-ion battery can cause the lithium to oxidize. If and when this happens in the wrong place and at the wrong time, fires can start, and serious damage can be done. With new hemp technology, this doesn’t happen. If the B4C-hemp battery is damaged or punctured, the sulphur will immediately react with the lithium in the battery, creating a protective layer and therefore will not combust.
Since the B4C-hemp battery is using substances that are abundantly found, instead of nickel and cobalt, lithium is the only precious substance that needs to be recovered. Old batteries, however, have an abundant source. Not only does this minimize waste, but it creates a sustainable, recyclable system of renewal.
Hemp seems to be a reasonable and even exciting solution for the problems associated with lithium-ion batteries, although mining of lithium is still needed to create B4C-hemp batteries.
Over half the world’s lithium is mined in Argentina, Bolivia, and Chile, and it just so happens to be in one of the driest regions of South America. The mining of lithium requires huge amounts of water — around 500,000 gallons of water is used to produce a ton of pure lithium. Communities in the region are now running out of water for farming and everyday use, causing growing concerns amongst the people there, let alone the concerns surrounding the emissions of the lithium mining industry.
If the B4C-hemp batteries do what they say they will, since they won’t contain nickel and cobalt, we should one day be able to simply recycle the lithium from old batteries rather than destroying our environment mining more of it.
The B4C-hemp batteries are still in early development, and Bemp Research are calling out for investors, so they can continue developing. It is hard to tell whether these more environmentally positive batteries will ever become the norm. But, it is showing that to every hurdle we come across in trying to create a better world, one without fossil fuels, there are solutions being discovered. And if we support environmental innovations, there will always be a better alternative.