Below are a few innovations in the renewable technology and e-waste management spaces, which either reduce the need for transition minerals or help to (re)win transition minerals with a lower environmental impact:
💡 Sand Batteries
The Finnish company, Polar Night Energy, has been working on developing a battery that can store excess wind and solar energy in the form of heat in sand. The battery uses low-grade sand, instead of lithium (which is expected to become scarce). The first commercial sand battery is in operation in western Finland in the town Kankaanpää.
Several companies, such as NanoFlex and PolyPower, are working to create solar cells and photovoltaics that use organic compounds. These are made from common elements and promise to be cost-effective. As they are flexible and lightweight, they can be used on different surfaces – and are expected to prove helpful in achieving net zero energy use for buildings.
💡 Silicone Circuit Boards
Researchers at the University of Illinois have been developing silicone circuit boards, which are dissolvable in water. Their use has the potential to significantly reduce the impacts of e-waste in landfills.
💡 Dissolvable Batteries
Researchers at Iowa State University have found a way “to fully dissolve a lithium-ion battery in minutes compared to the hours to days it takes to break them down with conventional heat or chemical practices”. The researchers’ goal is to find a cheaper and more environmentally friendly way to extract minerals (such as cobalt, nickel and aluminum) from batteries.
💡 Lithium from Saltwater
Researchers at Stanford University and Seoul National University have been working on ways to extract lithium from seawater. Our oceans are estimated to contain 180 billion tons of lithium. Yet, this is highly diluted (present at roughly 0.2 parts per million). While current methods are still slow, expensive, and require extensive land areas (to evaporate water), there is the hope that new filters and membranes may make the extraction from seawater economically feasible.
💡 Biological Filter for E-waste
The VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland has developed a biological filter made from mushrooms that can reclaim up to 80% of the gold found in e-waste. The use of the biological filter eliminates the need to use harmful chemicals, and it is more effective than conventional methods.
Read more about the technologies and research mentioned here: