The war in Ukraine has spurred more research into clean energy, including lithium-ion alternatives.
Producing these batteries often involves child labor and can cause environmental harm.
Polar Night Energy says batteries made of sand could be as effective without the same risks.
Research on batteries made of sand, for example, is gaining traction, according to The Washington Post.
Ukraine War has sped up clean energy research across Europe
Russia's invasion of Ukraine sparked interest in more clean energy sources in Europe, said Olga Khakova, deputy director for European energy security at the Global Energy Center at the Atlantic Council.
"Russia wanted to ensure that Ukraine would receive no support or minimal support from allies in order to make it as easy as possible for them to achieve their geopolitical objectives in the country," Khakova told Insider. "And one of the ways that they wanted to ensure that is through holding Europe hostage through tremendous reliance on Russian energy supplies."
The push for clean energy solutions has fostered collaboration among energy experts across the continent, leading to new innovations across the board, she said.
"There's always tensions and different views in terms of some of the climate policies," Khakova said. "But watching Europe put a lot of these issues aside and kind of come together to stick through this and overcome this energy crisis, resilience and innovation is still there."
One of the key resulting innovations has been new alternatives to lithium-ion batteries, the development of which is tied to human rights abuses and environmental harm.
Lithium-ion battery alternatives made from sand
Amid this wave of new research, a Finnish company called Polar Night Energy is producing batteries made out of sand that it says can rival the power of lithium-ion batteries, the Washington Post reported.
Sand batteries store energy generated by the sun or wind that is then converted into heat, which the sand can hold and maintain — with the help of a fan — until it's time to use it for energy, researchers told the Post.
The development could help alleviate the human rights abuses and environmental damage that often come with mining cobalt and nickel, two key components of a lithium-ion battery.
The cobalt mining industry relies heavily on child labor, according to Amnesty International. In just the Democratic Republic of the Congo — the world's largest supplier of cobalt — Amnesty International estimates about 40,000 children are working in cobalt mines.
Khakova said the war in Ukraine has accelerated discussions among energy experts across Europe about how to set proper standards for the mining and processing of these critical minerals.
Beyond the human rights abuses prevalent in the cobalt industry, lithium-ion batteries also present environmental hazards. Fires caused by the batteries are on the rise, with some incidents requiring hundreds of firefighters to extinguish, CNN reported earlier this year.
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