Wil Sillen's post

Remarkable: Microsoft AI invents a new battery with much less lithium

By: Teun Schröder
Sometimes, as an editor, you come across news that raises an eyebrow. That one strange innovation, an unexpected effect of climate change or an example of human clumsiness. So remarkable. This week: artificial intelligence invents a new battery with 70 percent less lithium.
In a short time it seems as if no sector can ignore the possibilities of artificial intelligence. AI can now also help science find the ideal materials for making batteries. And that is important in the search for alternative materials for lithium. Because although lithium has proven itself as a valuable raw material in batteries, supplies are running out and mining has a major environmental impact. Finding and testing the right material composition is a time-consuming and labor-intensive process and can take many years.

Much less lithium
That's why a team of scientists from Microsoft turned to AI for help in their search for a new kind of battery. Based on suggestions provided by AI, the scientists then tested and developed a working battery with 70 percent less lithium than comparable designs. The entire process, from start to finish, took just nine months.

The researchers tackled this as follows. In their search, they focused on a battery made of solids. The goal was to find a combination of materials through which the electric charge moves: the electrolyte. The AI ​​was fed with information about millions of material combinations. The algorithm then eliminated the materials that were likely to be unstable or would perform poorly.

Millions of combinations
After the AI ​​had been working for a few days, out of millions of candidates, only a few hundred remained. Some of these combinations had never been studied before. “But we're not materials researchers,” Nathan Baker, director of Microsoft's AI research program, told New Scientist. So Baker called battery technology experts to ask if they were on the right track.
Scientists at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Washington then suggested additional selection criteria that would allow the AI ​​to move forward. After more rounds of elimination, the research team finally chose a material combination that it wanted to develop in the lab. This suggestion from the AI ​​stood out because it contained remarkably little lithium: 70 percent less than comparable batteries. Instead, the AI ​​suggested using more sodium. Although sodium batteries are not new, their development is still ongoing. In that sense, the proposed recipe and ratio of materials that Microsoft's AI came up with was still unexplored territory.

Fast process
Finally, Baker's team went to work and built a working lithium-sodium battery. Although the battery performed slightly less in terms of conductivity than batteries with more lithium, researchers say the design leaves plenty of room for further optimization. The scientists take the minor limitations for granted, given the enormous speed of a few months with which the new battery was developed.

  • Abraham Jok Atem

    13 w

    This new battery is unique because it will have a higher energy density, longer lifespan and faster charging.

    • Munene Mugambi

      13 w

      We'd also like to see more power stored on smaller batteries and less pollution in extraction of the said lithium

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