The Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory has licensed five battery technologies to an energy storage startup. The technologies are designed to eliminate cobalt metal in lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries and are aimed at accelerating production of electric vehicles and energy storage for the power grid.

The licensed technologies include cathode materials, a novel electrolyte formula and a scaling process to enable industrial-scale production of what Oak Ridge said would be more sustainable, fast-charging cobalt-free batteries.

The startup, known as Sparkz Inc., entered into the exclusive license agreement with the national laboratory. The company was founded in 2019 by Sanjiv Malhotra, who has worked in various roles, including as the director of DOE’s Energy Investor Center. Sparkz Inc. is expected to locate an R&D and prototyping facility in the U.S. to scale the technologies.

Cobalt generally increases the performance but also reduces the safety of lithium-ion batteries that are used in consumer electronics and in electric vehicles. The metal is specifically used in a battery’s cathode, the positively charged end that determines much of a battery’s performance. However, because cobalt is costly and mined overseas, finding alternative materials has become a priority.

Oak Ridge said that global battery demand is expected to increase to around 14 times 2018 levels of 184 gigawatt hours (GWh), to more than 2,600 GWh in 2030. Much of that growth is projected to take place in the mobility sector.

The five licensed ORNL-developed technologies include:

High energy density secondary lithium batteries: This high-density lithium battery design uses novel cathode and anode compositions to overcome energy density limitations of existing technologies for more efficient rechargeable batteries.

Cobalt-free layered oxide cathodes: This low-cost, cobalt-free cathode material was created for the development of improved lithium-ion batteries.

Nonaqueous electrolyte with lithium bis(fluorosulfonyl)imide salt for fast charging/discharging of Li-ion batteries: Electrolytes are the liquid medium by which cathodes and anodes “talk” to each other in batteries by exchanging electrons. This new electrolyte formulation allows faster charging for lithium-ion batteries and can perform at a 23% higher capacity during a 12-minute charge than other formulas.

Early transition metal stabilized high capacity oxidatively stable cathodes of lithium-ion batteries: This innovation improves on lithium-ion cathodes by replacing early transition metals, namely cobalt, at relevant sites in cathodes, and by varying the lithium composition.

Battery materials scale up and processes: This manufacturing innovation enables industrial-scale production of battery materials through a series of chemical processes.

In 2019, DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Vehicle Technologies Office selected the ORNL-Sparkz partnership for the DOE Lab Investment Incubator Activity, which focuses on maturing lab-scale technologies for commercialization. The partnership was also selected in 2019 for a $750,000 DOE Technology Commercialization Fund project, “Enabling Cobalt-Free Battery Solution for Behind-the-Meter Storage.”