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Alsym Energy
Image courtesy of Alsym Energy

Batteries

Alsym Energy Debuts Low Cost Water-Based Batteries

Massachusetts battery startup Alsym Energy says its new water-based battery uses no lithium, cobalt, or nickel and costs half as much as conventional lithium-ion batteries.

Alsym Energy is a Massachusetts-based company working on next generation batteries. Recently, I got an email from a spokesperson for Alsym asking if CleanTechnica would be interested in doing a story on the company, which has just emerged from stealth mode after several years toiling in obscurity. I looked over the information provided and thought it was lacking in details. I know my readers depend on me to report only about actual advances in battery technology, not spread hype, so I initially declined to pursue the story. My colleague Tina Casey also found the preliminary information lacking in specificity.

I have a Google alert set up for any news about batteries. This morning, it had three links to stories about Alsym. One is a press release, one a story by Fast Company, and one by PV Magazine, so I decided to take another look at the Alsym story. Then I went back to that email from Abby Kaufmann, the spokesperson for the company, who sent me the nicest response after I told her I wouldn’t be doing the story. Here’s what she said:

“Unfortunately for IP reasons, the company is not ready to reveal everything they are using in their batteries yet. What I can share with you now is that the battery uses no lithium, cobalt, or nickel to avoid the problems associated with supply and costs of each of those materials. The cathode is primarily manganese oxide and the anode is a different metal oxide. In addition, the electrolyte is water based — no organic solvents.

“Currently sourcing mainly from the U.S. with some suppliers in Europe and Japan, all of the materials used in the battery are inherently non-flammable and non-toxic making sourcing, manufacturing, application, and end of life processes safe and environmentally friendly. Thus, the battery is 1) a better solution for marine applications as fleets electrify and a better solution for two wheeler applications with poor heat dissipation. The new battery reduces the need for expensive battery management and cooling systems in EVs.”

Well, with such a courteous and professional response, how could I not share this with my readers? No lithium, cobalt, or nickel? No organic solvents? No exploding electric bicycle and scooter batteries? This is news we can use.

In a press release, the company says it is partnering with a leading automaker in India to develop its batteries and will provide 3 GWh of batteries a year for use in that company’s products. Alsym is also in talks with companies in the marine shipping and electric two-wheeler markets to develop similar partnerships.

“Lithium is inherently flammable, and there are numerous risks that accompany all lithium-based battery technologies,” says Mukesh Chatter, CEO of Alsym Energy. He says the company is “on a mission to provide the world with cost effective energy storage solutions using advanced, inherently non-flammable battery materials beyond lithium, made from non-toxic, readily available resources to power the growing mobility and stationary storage industries. We’re excited to work with industry partners to produce the next generation of batteries and to validate the innovations that will enable widespread access to clean electricity on a global scale.”

Kripa Varanasi is a mechanical engineering professor at MIT who has spent the past five years working with Alsym. Because he was not focused on batteries in his past endeavors, he tells Fast Company he looked at battery technology with a fresh perspective. “We started exploring other chemistries. If you learn about batteries, you’re automatically going in the lithium direction. But we were looking at different metrics. It has to be abundant. It has to be low cost. It has to be easily recyclable. It has to [avoid] the supply chain challenges.” As the company started testing the new technology, “we started seeing lithium-like performance,” Varanasi says.

What Are The Specifics For Alsym Batteries?

Alsym Energy

Image courtesy of Alsym Energy

OK. At this point, readers will be asking, “What about specifics like energy density, number of charging cycles, cold weather performance, charging speed, and discharge rates?” Those are all excellent questions for which there are no answers at present. But we do have to prick up our ears when we hear that Nitin Nohria, a former dean of the Harvard Business School, is heading the company’s board of business advisors.

Norhia says, “We’re seeing global competition to bring new batteries to market. Most companies are focused primarily on performance and put little thought into also making their batteries safer and more cost-effective —especially for the developing world where consumers are more price-sensitive. The team at Alsym Energy is working to ensure that their batteries not only meet performance expectations at reduced cost, but also avoid most of the supply chain challenges associated with lithium-based technologies. Not only are Alsym batteries sustainable, but the company’s business model is sustainable as well.”

The company estimates that Alsym batteries will cost less than half of today’s lithium-based batteries. That should help EVs to compete on price with conventional cars. Using non-flammable, non-toxic materials removes many end-of-life concerns associated with lithium-ion batteries, making Alsym batteries easier to recycle. It also means Alsym batteries can be manufactured at many existing industrial sites. They can be made in existing lithium-ion battery factories with little to no retrofitting required at lower operating cost and without the need for expensive dry rooms, fire locks, and solvent recovery systems.

Beyond vehicles, the company sees its new battery being used for less expensive energy storage, particularly for the hundreds of millions of people around the world who still don’t have access to electricity. “You could connect it with a solar panel, for example, and store the energy to be able to run a fan, a couple of light bulbs, an internet connection, and a small refrigerator,” Chatter says. “That changes a life.”

The Takeaway

Alsym Energy

Image courtesy of Alsym Energy

Yes, this is new technology and there are few technical details available or independent research to support the company’s claims. But the promise of a low cost, non-toxic battery that can be manufactured using traditional techniques is highly intriguing. It’s too soon to declare the era of fossil fuels is over, but it’s not too soon to suggest that burning them to power the global economy is one step closer to becoming stuff only found in museums.

We expect to hear more about Alsym in the near future, and when we do, we will be sure to share that information with our readers.

 
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Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else the Singularity may lead him. You can follow him on Twitter but not on any social media platforms run by evil overlords like Facebook.

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