It takes about an hour to fully charge a cell phone, and the battery lasts about two to three years over 500 charge cycles. However, a new design could reduce charge time to only a few minutes and the battery is expected to last for 10,000 charge cycles over a 20 year lifespan. In addition to revolutionizing the technology that powers mobile devices, this has huge implications for the performance and longevity of batteries used in electric cars as well. The battery design was invented by Chen Xiaodong of Nanyang Technology University, and it was described in the journal Advanced Materials.
Rechargeable lithium ion batteries have been popularly used in electronic devices since the early 1990s, though the chemistry behind them has been studied since 1912. Traditionally, the batteries use a graphite anode (negative end) with a metal oxide cathode (positive end), along with an additive that helps facilitate electron exchange.
However, this new design replaces the carbon-based anode with a gel made of nanotubes of titanium dioxide. Titanium dioxide is spherical when found in nature, but converting it into the nanotubes allows it to charge much faster. This gel also replaces the need for the additive. Without the additive, there is more room within the battery for more of the gel, increasing the amount of energy it can store.
While many scientists have been trying to improve the performance and charging speed of batteries for years, the beauty of this new design is that it does not require developing something entirely new, rather it significantly improves what is already there. In fact, these modifications can be integrated into existing manufacturing procedures, making it much easier to bring this technology to market.
“Electric cars will be able to increase their range dramatically, with just five minutes of charging, which is on par with the time needed to pump petrol for current cars,” Chen Xiaodong said in a press release. “Equally important, we can now drastically cut down the toxic waste generated by disposed batteries, since our batteries last ten times longer than the current generation of lithium-ion batteries.”
The battery is the heart of the electric car and can cost around $5000 USD. By using a battery that can last 20 times longer than current technology, it will decrease the lifetime cost of the electric car, making them a more affordable and attractive option.
This new battery has already been patented and the team is currently in the process of trying to build a large prototype. Even ahead of the prototype, many in the electronics industry have expressed an interest in the new technology. The researchers believe that it could be available to consumers as early as 2016.
[Header image credit: Martin Abegglen via flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0]