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New battery technology may allow for complete recharging within minutes

By

March 21, 2011

A diagram of a lithium-ion battery constructed using Braun's nanostructured bicontinuous c...

A diagram of a lithium-ion battery constructed using Braun's nanostructured bicontinuous cathode (left), and a scanning electron microscope image of the nanostructure (right)
(Image: Paul Braun, University of Illinois)

Image Gallery (2 images)

Of all the criticisms of electric vehicles, probably the most commonly-heard is that their batteries take too long to recharge – after all, limited range wouldn't be such a big deal if the cars could be juiced up while out and about, in just a few minutes. Well, while no one is promising anything, new batteries developed at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign do indeed look like they might be a step very much in the right direction. They are said to offer all the advantages of capacitors and batteries, in one unit.

"This system that we have gives you capacitor-like power with battery-like energy," said U Illinois' Paul Braun, a professor of materials science and engineering. "Most capacitors store very little energy. They can release it very fast, but they can't hold much. Most batteries store a reasonably large amount of energy, but they can't provide or receive energy rapidly. This does both."

The speed at which conventional batteries are able to charge or discharge can be dramatically increased by changing the form of their active material into a thin film, but such films have typically lacked the volume to be able to store a significant amount of energy. In the case of Braun's batteries, however, that thin film has been formed into a three-dimensional structure, thus increasing its storage capacity.

Batteries equipped with the 3D film have been demonstrated to work normally in electrical devices, while being able to charge and discharge 10 to 100 times faster than their conventional counterparts.

To make the three-dimensional thin film, the researchers coated a surface with nanoscale spheres, which self-assembled into a lattice-like arrangement. The spaces between and around the spheres were then coated with metal, after which the spheres were melted or dissolved away, leaving the metal as a framework of empty pores. Electropolishing was then used to enlarge the pores and open up the framework, after which it was coated with a layer of the active material – both lithium-ion and nickel metal hydride batteries were created.

The system utilizes processes already used on a large scale, so it would reportedly be easy to scale up. It could also be used with any type of battery, not just Li-ion and NiMH.

The implications for electric vehicles are particularly exciting. "If you had the ability to charge rapidly, instead of taking hours to charge the vehicle you could potentially have vehicles that would charge in similar times as needed to refuel a car with gasoline," Braun said. "If you had five-minute charge capability, you would think of this the same way you do an internal combustion engine. You would just pull up to a charging station and fill up."

Braun and his team believe that the technology could be used not only for making electric cars more viable, but also for allowing phones or laptops to be able to recharge in seconds or minutes. It could also result in high-power lasers or defibrillators that don't need to warm up before or between pulses.

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.   All articles by Ben Coxworth
24 Comments

Physical limitations inhibit the "just pull up to a charging station and fill 'er up!" idea, what with the incredible amount of voltage/amperage required to transfer that much energy that quickly... not to mention the safety concerns in handling those "quantities" for the average consumer. There's a reason that high-power technicians are specially trained and equipped for dealing with this. Yes, recharging times need to be shorter, but they'll never be comparable to liquified fossil fuels in that regard (and that's okay!)

I think wireless (magnetic field) charging has potential - municipalities placing generating "pads" at traffic signals and public parking spots where the consumer is identified (by the vehicle's tag or RFID) and the power that's delivered is metered and billed accordingly.

Also, this tech (increased energy capacity) will greatly enhance the regen-braking aspect of electric vehicles, as their battery pack's currently limited ability in this area is a primary hindrance.

MzunguMkubwa
22nd March, 2011 @ 05:29 am PDT

This is a winner. One step further would be to have a pre-charged facility capable of dilvering this energy quickly rather than from the grid. That way, a fully-contained fast-charging facility could be made ready during hours of low demand and, like a tanked facility, draw down on its reserves during the day.

Muraculous
22nd March, 2011 @ 08:44 am PDT

MzunguMkubwa,

WHAT "PHYSICAL LIMITATIONS"?

The CHAdeMO fast charge method allows 125 Amps at 500 VDC ... that's 62.5 kW ... the Chevy Volt would charge (from empty ie. 10 kWhr) in about 9 minutes (if GM supported CHAdeMO).

ABB has developed DC fast charging stations that can deliver 125A, 250A or 500A DC current for charging, compatible with CHAdeMO protocols, or up to 250 kW. The Nissan Leaf would charge (from empty ie. 34 kWhr) in about 8 minutes.

With proper engineering, (safe) connectors and cables could handle 1,000 Amps at 1,000 VDC ... that's 1,000 kW or 1 MegaWatt. The Tesla Roadster would charge (from empty ie. 52 kWhr) in about 3 minutes.

The "Grid" needs to be "buffered" with banks of batteries that charge overnight. EVoasis.com EVSTAT Charging Stations have underground battery banks that handle multiple vehicles for fast charging.

EGM
22nd March, 2011 @ 09:51 am PDT

10 minute fast charge batteries exist and are use in Proterra Bus. check out



at around 0:40 sec for the statement

http://www.proterra.com/index.php

Facebook User
22nd March, 2011 @ 11:51 am PDT

great step to a clean enviorment

Amit Hizak
22nd March, 2011 @ 03:59 pm PDT

""If you had five-minute charge capability, "

Can you imagine the power capacity of the charging station that can dump the amount of electricity into a battery? The average 120 volt plug can supply a maximum of 1,500 watts (or 1.5kw/hr) it takes about 12 hours for a full charge, so that's 12 X 1.5KW or 18 thousand watts...compress this into 5 minutes that's 216 thousand watts of power that will need to flow from the charging station into your batteries! I don't know about you, but I would not want to stand anywhere other than an armored bunker while that thing charges! It's like in the movie Demolition Man where where Wesley Snipes sticks the shock rod into the charging port of a police car....BOOM!

Ed
22nd March, 2011 @ 04:00 pm PDT

"I think wireless (magnetic field) charging has potential - municipalities placing generating "pads" at traffic signals and public parking spots where the consumer is identified (by the vehicle's tag or RFID) and the power that's delivered is metered and billed accordingly."

Take that one step further do it on main arterial roads charge while driving

harry_72
22nd March, 2011 @ 04:34 pm PDT

They do exist, but the point about safety is still valid. Of course, safety is a problem with traditional fuels also, so maybe we need to temper this idea a bit.

The problem I see with these batteries is that their overall lifespan is probably not improved over traditional batteries, because they will have the same problems of surface build-up and holes that cause normal batteries to dramatically reduce in effectiveness in a few years.

Super/ultra capacitors would be a great solution for this if they didn't tend to be tolerant of only low voltages. I still think that we will have to move more toward capacitive solutions than battery solutions to see real long term improvement in EV power.

Charles Bosse
22nd March, 2011 @ 06:27 pm PDT

@EGM and @Muraculous

To really support widespread distribution and use of such stations to the majority of the US populous, the energy grid would have to not only be massively retrofitted, but also supplied by the only reasonable energy source for such an endeavor: nuclear energy.

Unfortunately, that path is most likely dead due to political cowardice. Though, I don't think I'd put any in California...

Racqia Dvorak
22nd March, 2011 @ 07:51 pm PDT

When harry_72 talks about charging while driving on arterial roads, I can't help but think of Scaletrix ... You know - Slot Cars..? Is the future in Kids toys? Wow - the scale speed of those things is fantastic!

Chris Clarke
23rd March, 2011 @ 03:28 am PDT

Batteries have internal resistance, so the electrical energy in them is always 'evaporating'. That's why it's no good to buy old batteries, much of their energy has been consumed after a couple years on the shelf. Therefore one question I would like answered is, how inefficient is an electrical vehicle when it's just sitting there?

Gas gets old too, but if I park my car for a few weeks while I go on holidays, the gas hasn't lost any of its energy.

Grunchy
23rd March, 2011 @ 08:58 pm PDT

So, come back in 6-10 years when it'll be on the market?

The not so great thing about all these battery improvements is that they are a great many years from being on sale.

Still waiting for OLEDs after 5 years... ;)

Oh hum...

Stuart Halliday
28th March, 2011 @ 07:49 am PDT

The internal resistance means that some of the energy being stored in the battery is lost as heat and has little to nothing to do with why old batteries are useless. Over time the physical arrangement degrades resulting in failed cells and decreased performance.

Also you would not need to retrofit the grid to support charging stations until after a large % of the population have switched to electric vehicles. Cellular communications sites already have a large surplus in routed energy, enough to handle a rapid charging station. Sites are also prolific enough to handle early demand.

Kr0nu5
2nd April, 2011 @ 01:26 pm PDT

Actually, all we need is lead-acid batteries, not advanced Nickel or Lithium; the 1999 EV1 with PSB lead-acid batteries went up to 110 miles on a charge, and the batteries lasted more than 50K miles.

This was a great car to commute in! Fast, fun and almost free to drive.

If you charge it with off-peak energy paid for by your rooftop solar system's daytime peak production, the EV helps the grid both ways:

SLOW charging at night uses electric otherwise unwanted,

Solar energy helps meet daytime peak, generating credits for night-time charging.

Doug Korthof
5th April, 2011 @ 03:47 pm PDT

If I understand correctly, the thinner the battery plates are the faster they charge and discharge. However this also reduces the number of cycles or the longevity of the battery, meaning the battery will have to be replaced sooner. Plate thickness also influences the ability to keep supplying power over time. Hopefully the new engineering improves these factors somehow as well.

aquasparky007
14th April, 2011 @ 04:23 am PDT

@ MzunguMkubwa

High amperage shielded cable/connector vs exposed stream of highly volatile liquid... Ya know, I think that the human instinct to live will prevent people from hacking through the cable to get at the power. Just a hunch though.

As for physical limitations, there are none. The infrastructure for recharging electric vehicles is already ready in place. As always, the only drawback to electric cars is stupid people.

Johnathan Switzer
14th April, 2011 @ 11:54 pm PDT

This sounds almost exactly what I was thinking of when I wrote "Kathleen", a very short short-story about a guy and his car:

http://www.soopergrape.com/kathleen.html

If you have a small engine that puts out a steady supply of high efficiency power that is above your needs for cruising, and your requirements above this amount can be satisfied with a small, lightweight battery system that can instantly pump out and also reabsorb excess power from deceleration as fast as it is produced, as well as efficiently charge using whatever excess power the small powerplant puts out-you effectively have a full electric with a range easily greater than even high mileage diesels. Trickle charging for any unexpected shortage can be accomplished in any number of ways, since the total amount is so small.

Daniel Gooch
16th May, 2011 @ 06:17 am PDT

MzunguMkubwa - I think you're 100% right - wireless transfer of energy could be a real advance for electric cars - no need for a pantagraph (as in the bar that gets electricicty from the overhead wire to the train) As long as there arent health implications.

Simon Gray
22nd May, 2011 @ 06:57 pm PDT

The comments on the HUGE amount of power for a quick charge are absolutely CORRECT.

For a serious electric car, consider at least 30 kWh. To charge that in 5 min it would demand an electric circuit (wires, connectors, etc) capable of handling 360 kWh.

But there's another hidden danger here:

- Batteries are NOT 100% efficient - part of the energy you feed into them is lost, turned into HEAT.

IF YOU EVER get such a fast-charging 360 kWh circuit, this means all the heat generated INSIDE THE BATTERY WHILE CHARGING would lead to a potentially high TEMPERATURE RISE in the battery.

Assuming 20% losses, 1/5 of the energy would turn into heat inside the battery. Another major issue to handle.

What's the problem of charging at home during the night? Your 8hs of sleep time would be enough even for common household electric installations.

Also, what's the problem of having a 30 - even 60 min charge time at a gas station, while you stretch your body for the additional 300 miles of your trip, drink a cup of coffe, have a snack...

Fast recharge may need very special equipment. Superconductors, anyone?

Keep your feet on the ground - let's use whatever proven technology we have NOW.

Rubin
31st May, 2011 @ 10:52 am PDT

What about TOKAMAK generated energy (instead of nuclear generated) to power the "wireless grid"?

Marten Alvarado
20th July, 2011 @ 06:04 pm PDT

solar energy.. bodies constructed out of solar energy panels.. capacitive and this specific battery solutions will eliminate the use of huge unsafe grids and magnetic fields that can disrupt some electronic devices.. http://www.gizmag.com/self-repairing-photovoltaic-technology/16291/ .. harness the power of the sun .. lets not waste it

Marné Nagel
1st August, 2011 @ 03:38 pm PDT

Considering over 50% of electricity generated in the USA is converted from coal (9 out of every 10 tons of coal mined in the USA is used to generate electricity and i am just assuming the USA is where this technolgy is being trialed/developed), so if these batteries consume so much electricity, then how is that contribting to a greener society and really??? Does anyone if the electricity (generated by coal) is any better for the environment than running an identical vehicle on petrol?? Also interested to know the potential costs and difference in vehicle performance??

Sarah Convery
21st September, 2011 @ 02:58 am PDT

Wireless charging is possible, but REALLY slow. The power limitations are severe.

As for TOKAMAK, that's a perpetual boondoggle. The claim is still "40 yrs+ for commercial application." But it can't work; hot fusion plasma is just too frisky to contain. The only way to get plasmas under control is with star-sized gravity fields, or microscopic magnetic fields*.

Also, they are "primitive" in the sense of depending on high-speed neutrons to heat water to make steam, etc. The neutrons are very damaging to equipment and metals, etc., and leave them radioactive. Not workable.

*Check out LPPhysics.com . Could be proven possible this winter, and on the market in under 5 yrs. Limited to small generators, ~5MW, emplaced anywhere, no neutrons, direct current (no steam cycle, etc.) Under 1/10 the best current costs to build and run.

Brian Hall
21st October, 2011 @ 03:16 pm PDT

While I hope faster charging works, it could complicate grid management. Slow charging can be done in more places, in more times (like overnight), with fewer spikes and sags to the grid. In fact, overnight charging should even out electric power demand, raising the baseload demand level closer to the current peak loads. Charging in 20-30 minutes could encourage pay-outlets in retail parking lots while you're shopping, etc. This could create a daily peak that follows today's daily peak retail activity (I assume that's evening hours, but ask your nearest store manager). Both of the above evaporate business for today's gas stations.

Five minute charging will tend to re-employ today's gas station-sites. Do they need to segregate charging stations and fuel pumps, forcing companies to either totally convert to charging versus keeping a gas station as-is? Either way, this tends to create a peak that follows today's commuting peak (morning and afternoon/evening rush, roughly). Utility managers will be interested in looking at the transmission and distribution patterns at several levels: metro versus neighborhood, for instance. The total amounts of electricity delivered to charging fuel stations or retail parking lots with pay chargers may be comparable to heavy industrial customers, but the minute to minute or moment to moment peaks or sags in demand may be more quirky than most classic factory-wide loads. Some industries may traditionally have such momentary loads; if so, the infrastructure they built for their plants could be studied for fast charging stations. From the grid's point of view, it will be like building a weird factory a scattered sites around every city, town and village, in residential as well as commercial/ industrial areas. What that means for building up "the last mile" of power distribution lines, I'm not sure -- but I'll bet the utilities will consider that an important question to get an answer to. Possibly EPRI, DOE, etc are already asking it.

Rick Thurman
21st February, 2012 @ 05:41 am PST
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