Lithium-ion batteries (specifically LiFePO4) are currently the great hope of electric cars, laptop computers and cell phones, but they have their drawbacks. They recharge and release energy slowly, and in order to store a lot of energy, they're heavy. Researchers at MIT think they have found the underlying problem with these batteries and how to fix it - possibly bringing a lighter, faster battery in the next couple of years.
Up until now, scientists have believed that charged lithium atoms were to blame for the battery performance - they moved slowly through the battery material on their way to deliver their charge. But now, researchers say the atoms themselves aren't to blame, but rather how the ions get into the nano-scale tunnels that deliver them to their destination.
They've come up with a lithium phosphate coating that pushes the ions into the tunnels, where they then quickly make their way to the battery terminal. With this modification, a cell phone battery can charge in just 10 seconds. They imagine with this same boost, plug-in hybrids could fully charge in just five minutes.
Also, this new battery material wouldn't degrade as much through constant recharging, allowing smaller and lighter batteries to take the place of heavier ones. If this theory can be proved, the next step would be to come up with an amped up power supply that could deliver the electricity needed for the quick charging.
Two companies have already licensed the invention and because the material involved isn't new, this upgraded battery could be commercially available within two to three years.
written by Anthony, March 12, 2009
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