The U.S. Department of Energy has awarded Oregon State University $3 million in research to develop a new battery technology that would accelerate the transition to clean energy without relying on rare, depleting minerals such as lithium, cobalt and nickel. University of Oregon chemistry professor Xiulei “David” Ji, who will lead the battery research team, said it could be a game changer.

“It’s a new paradigm,” he said in an interview with Oregon Public Broadcasting. “We are very excited and very grateful to have this opportunity to work on this project.”

As the world transitions from fossil fuels to clean energy to reduce its contribution to climate change, there is a growing need for batteries to store renewable energy and power electric vehicles. The boom in the battery market has raised concerns about the environmental impact of mining materials such as lithium, and driven up prices and demand for minerals used to make batteries.

According to the International Energy Agency, which analyzes data for global energy policy, the world could face a lithium shortage by 2025. Its price has risen sharply, tripling in 2021. Nickel, a mineral used in lithium-ion batteries, is also growing in demand and showing rising prices.

Ji, who will lead a team of researchers from Howard University, the University of Maryland and Vanderbilt University, said dependence on these minerals is unsustainable and expensive. Achieving clean energy goals will soon require a move away from relatively rare, finite minerals, he said.

He plans to research anion batteries that provide the necessary components without using limited minerals like those used in lithium batteries, and which could potentially increase the amount of energy a battery can hold.