Most batteries we use nowadays are based on cobalt. Tons of this mineral comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo, often from the bare hands of children. These batteries are often powered by other unethical practices.
Moreover, the predicted dominance of electric vehicles and the need for grid-scale energy storage have heightened concerns that cobalt, a key constituent of lithium-ion batteries, could become a critical limiting factor. A shortage of cobalt could be experienced by the early 2020s.
Now, a team of MIT engineers say they’ve found an alternative, according to New Scientist: using a beach ball-like apparatus hanging from abandoned oceanic oil rigs, it may be possible to absorb enough cobalt to build hundreds of thousands of batteries for Teslas or other electric cars.
There’s 70 times more cobalt in the ocean than there is on land — and just 76 Gulf of Mexico oil rigs outfitted with cobalt-absorbing devices could absorb enough to make up a quarter of the cobalt used in battery manufacturing in 2017, per the study.
The new technique, while scientifically sound, is still too expensive to be worthwhile at scale, New Scientist reports.
But it may be possible to drive down costs by making the cobalt-absorbing orbs out of recycled plastic and other waste, which could make the prospect financially viable.