Current Li-ion batteries in electric cars and cellphones have a short range, long charging time, and degrade over time. Luckily, researchers at Ohio State University have recently developed new materials to improve battery life and longevity.
Most electric cars and cell phones today use lithium-ion technology, or “Li-ion”. batteries. Compared to other battery types, Li-ion batteries are lightweight, making them more portable and comfortable. Lithium is also highly reactive. This means that a considerable amount of power can be stored in its atomic bonds, which translates into high energy density.
As a result, electric cars equipped with lithium-ion batteries have offered a way to reduce transportation-related CO2 emissions and have acted as an intermediary step on the path to fossil fuel independence. At the same time, cell phones have become smaller and more lightweight thanks to the same technology, and have in turn helped to drive global connectivity.
But long charging times and short battery life have proved to be the biggest impediments to the widespread adoption of electric vehicles, and an annoying fact of life for cell phones.
According to Ohio State Engineers developing a new type of battery technology, it takes eight hours to give some electric cars enough charge to go 200 miles compared to a few minutes at the gas pump that may get you even farther. To provide the same convenience to customers offered by traditional gas engines, it’s clear that charging times for electric cars must be considerably reduced.
Gatorade for Your Car
In publishing their findings, engineers Vishnu-Baba Sundaresan and Travis Henry explain that their proposed battery technology uses a liquid electrolyte solution. The fact that the electrolytes are pumped from the anode to the cathode to generate power makes this technology a redox flow battery. The electrolyte liquid can then be emptied from the battery, recharged and used to refill the battery.
This innovative electrolyte solution could offer a viable replacement for gasoline while still utilizing gas station infrastructure. Drivers could save time and improve battery life by depositing the used solution at stations for charging, and refuel their vehicles with a liquid solution that is already charged and ready to go.
Plastic Membrane to the Rescue
Sundaresan and Travis have also developed a thin plastic membrane that stops rechargeable batteries from losing charge when they are not in use, and also allows for rapid recharging.
The membrane takes the charge and separates the anode and the cathode, and is made of a conductive polymer with a polycarbonate filter. The fact that this “smart” filter opens and closes only in response a molecule’s electrical charge maximizes efficiency by dramatically reducing charge loss and thermal runaway. The result is that battery charges faster and retains its charge for longer.
While the Ohio State team’s research was designed specifically for electric car batteries, their findings have obvious implications for batteries in general. Their work and the new technologies that it has produced could make constant cell phone charging a thing of the past, and help transform gas pumps into Gatorade pumps for your car.