Breakthrough in the Lab Could Mean Batteries that Charge in Minutes

electric car charging station photo

Photo: quinn.anya, Flickr, CC
Electrodes Made With Nanostructured Metal Foams
Battery technology is improving slowly but surely, and while progress might seem slow to many of us who are living in internet time, the improvements in energy density and charging rate are compounding nicely over time. One of the latest advances concerns the making of electrodes with "nanostructured metal foams", greatly improving how fast the battery can be charged. Read on for more details.
nissan leaf electric car battery photo

Nissan Leaf battery (just as an illustration of an EV battery, they don't have this technology yet). Photo: Nissan
Researchers have been trying to use nanostructured materials to improve the process, but there's usually a trade-off between total energy storage capacity (which determines how long a battery can run before needing a recharge) and charge rates. "People solved half the problem," says Paul Braun, professor of materials science and engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Braun's group has made highly porous metal foams coated with a large amount of active battery materials. The metal provides high electrical conductivity, and even though it's porous, the structure holds enough active material to store a sufficient amount of energy. The pores allow for ions to move about unimpeded. (source)

The beauty is that this method for making fast-charging electrodes is applicable to different battery chemistries, like lithium-ion or nickel-metal-hydride.

Charging electric vehicles at home might never take only minutes because few houses are wired with fat enough 'pipes' to completely charge a battery pack that quickly, but it could make fast-charging stations more convenient (and long trip practical), and battery-swapping stations (like what Better Place is working on) unnecessary. We're not there yet, but we're getting closer with each new breakthrough.

The challenge will now be to get this technology out of the lab and into commercial applications, and before that can happen, the manufacturing process has to be made economical. But the higher the price of oil goes, and the more our lives become digitized, the more pressure there will be for fast-charging batteries to be commercialized. At this point it's more a question of 'when' than 'if'.

Via Nature Nanotech, Technology Review
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