The all-important nickel manganese cobalt oxide (NMC) catalyst in lithium ion batteries is a threat to a key soil bacterium, according to a University of Wisconsin-Madison study in the online journal Chemistry of Materials.
The research “is an early signal that the growing use of the new nano-scale materials used in the rechargeable batteries that power portable electronics and electric and hybrid vehicles may have untold environmental consequences,” the university reports.
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“Nickel is dirt cheap. It’s pretty good at energy storage. It is also toxic. So is cobalt,” said UW-Madison chemistry professor and study lead Robert Hamers. “As far as we know, this is the first study that’s looked at the environmental impact of these materials,” and the news is not good for the common soil and sediment bacterium Shewanella oneidensis.
The bacterium is “particularly relevant for studies of potentially metal-releasing engineered nano-materials,” he added, since it’s widely distributed in the environment and found worldwide. “You can imagine Shewanella both as a toxicity indicator species and as a potential bioremediator.”
Hamers said this was the first study of its kind, and co-author Christy Haynes of the University of Minnesota called for further research. “It is not reasonable to generalize the results from one bacterial strain to an entire ecosystem, but this may be the first ‘red flag’ that leads us to consider this more broadly,” she said. “We want to dig into this further and figure out how these ions impact bacterial gene expression, but that work is still under way.” (h/t to Environmental News Bits for pointing us to this story)
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