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New Electrode Tech Could Recharge Batteries in


Two Minutes
By Ars Technica March 23, 2011 | 11:54 am | Categories: R&D and Inventions

Left: diagram of a lithium-ion battery constructed using a nanostructured bicontinuous cathode. Right:
scanning electron microscope image of the nanostructure, a three-dimensional metal foam current
collector coated with a thin layer of active material. Image courtesy of Paul Braun, University of Illinois.

by John Timmer, Ars Technica

Batteries are an essential part of most modern gadgets, and their role is expected to expand as they’re
incorporated into vehicles and the electric grid itself. But batteries can’t move charge as quickly as some
competing devices like supercapacitors, and their performance tends to degrade significantly with time.
That has sent lots of materials science types into the lab, trying to find ways to push back these limits,
sometimes with notable success. Over the weekend, there was another report on a technology that enables
fast battery charging. The good news is that it uses a completely different approach and technology than
the previous effort, and can work with both lithium- and nickel-based batteries.

http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2011/03/new-electrode/ 4/21/2011
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The previous work was lithium-specific, and focused on one limit to


a battery’s recharge rate: how quickly the lithium ions could move within the battery material. By
providing greater access to the electrodes, the authors allowed more ions to quickly exchange charge,
resulting in a battery with a prodigious capacity. The researchers increased lithium’s transport within the
battery by changing the structure of the battery’s primary material, LiFePO4.

The new work is quite different. The authors, from the University of Illinois, don’t focus on the speed of
the lithium ions in the battery; instead, they attempt to reduce the distance the ions have to travel before
reaching an electrode. As they point out, the time involved in lithium diffusion increases with the square
of the distance traveled, so cutting that down can have a very dramatic effect. To reduce this distance,
they focus on creating a carefully structured cathode.

The process by which they do this is fairly simple, and lends itself to mass production. They started with
a collection of spherical polystyrene pellets. By adjusting the size of these pellets (they used 1.8µm and
466nm pellets), they could adjust the spacing of the electrode features. Once the spheres were packed in
place, a layer of opal (a form of silica) was formed on top of them, locking the pattern in place with a
more robust material. After that, a layer of nickel was electrodeposited on the opal, which was then
etched away. The porosity of the nickel layer was then increased using electropolishing.

When the process was done, the porosity — a measure of the empty space in the structure — was about
94 percent, just below the theoretical limit of 96 percent. The authors were left with a nickel wire mesh
that was mostly empty space.

Into these voids went the battery material, either nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) or a lithium-treated
manganese dioxide. The arrangement provides three major advantages, according to the authors: an
electrolyte pore network that enables rapid ion transport, a short diffusion distance for the ions to meet
the electrodes, and an electrode with high electron conductivity. All of these make for a battery that acts a
lot like a supercapacitor when it comes to charge/discharge rates.

With the NiMH battery material, the electrodes could deliver 75 percent of the normal capacity of the
battery in 2.7 seconds; it only took 20 seconds to recharge it to 90 percent of its capacity, and these
values were stable for 100 charge/discharge cycles. The lithium material didn’t work quite as well, but
was still impressive. At high rates of discharge, it could handle 75 percent of its normal capacity, and still
stored a third of its regular capacity when discharged at over a thousand times the normal rate.

A full-scale lithium battery made with the electrode could be charged to 75 percent within a minute, and
hit 90 percent within two minutes.

There are a few nice features of this work. As the authors noted, the electrodes are created using
techniques that can scale to mass production, and the electrodes themselves could work with a variety of
battery materials, such as the lithium and nickel used here. It may also be possible to merge them with the
LiFePO4used in the earlier work. A fully integrated system, with materials designed to work specifically
with these electrodes, could increase their performance even further.

Of course, that ultimately pushes us up against the issue of supplying sufficient current in the short time

http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2011/03/new-electrode/ 4/21/2011
New Electrode Tech Could Recharge Batteries in Two Minutes | Gadget Lab | Wired.com Page 3 of 8

frames needed to charge the battery this fast. It might work great for a small battery, like a cell phone, but
could create challenges if we’re looking to create a fast-charge electric car.

Nature Nanotechnology, 2011. DOI: 10.1038/NNANO.2011.38 (About DOIs).

Originally published as Electrode lets lithium batteries charge in just two minutes on Ars Technica.

See Also:

 GM Joins Uncle Sam to Build Better Batteries


 Battery Breakthrough Promises Lighter Weight, More Power
 New Battery Could Recharge in Seconds
 Viruses Might Help Make Better Batteries
 Vibration-Powered Batteries Charge Themselves
 Next-Gen Car Batteries Promise Longer Life, More Power
 Why Things Suck: Batteries

Tags: Ars Technica, batteries, power, recharge


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Related Topics:

 Ars Technica LLC,


 John Timmer,
 Paul Braun,
 University of Illinois

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John Harrison, Software developer, dad, geek.

Charge times are the major obstacle to electric vehicles. If this approach can scale to batteries
large enough to power a car then it is an important breakthrough. Charging a car as fast or faster
than you can fill it up with gas will change the world. Much more than a fast charging cell phone,
which would be nice, but doesn't affect issues of climate change, energy independence, and
sustainability nearly as much.

4 weeks ago 3 Likes Like Reply

samagon

what about heat generated when charging?

4 weeks ago 2 Likes Like Reply

oneStarman

I had read about this Technology a couple of years ago - and that this Technology would decrease
the size of the Battery; but this decreased CHARGE time is really INTERESTING. Getting close
to being able to stop for Battery 'FILLUP' for a ROADTRIP or LONG HAUL TRUCKERS.

4 weeks ago 2 Likes Like Reply

DatabaseOne

Make this. Now.

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3 weeks ago

George

This reminds me of an ebook I just read called Project Utopia. The characters were injected with
nanorobots that contained batteries that could release powerful amounts of energy. Cool story--not
really all that relevant here, but reminiscent nonetheless. Regardless, if these batteries could be
charged and made to work in autos, that would certainly ease the burden of our rampant oil
consumption.

3 weeks ago Like Reply

NYinside

Can they make the spheres larger so that a larger battery could be made?
It would be great to see a car battery charge up quick and last long. At least 200 miles between
charges would make most road trips worth while in an electric car. Nano technology is giving us
some great advances. I hope can solve our energy problems and ween ourselves off of fossil fuels.

4 weeks ago Like Reply

AbdulahZinDaHouse

"could create challenges if we’re looking to create a fast-charge electric car", probably a desirable
feature somehow, as it justifies the need for a "middle man" infrastructure, not unlike today's
fueling stations.

As in, you can charge your car _overnight_ at home, or real fast, on the way, at a specially
equipped recharging station, where they'll be equipped to repair your vehicle, and even do your
windows while you charge, and then they'll charge you on Paypal.

4 weeks ago Like Reply

adarix

The limit is not how fast a battery can be charged. The limit is how much power (i.e. wattage) can
be delivered by the charging station. Supplying enough current to recharge electric cars at the

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same rate as petroleum cars will require a comprehensive, major, and very expensive upgrade to
the power grid.

4 weeks ago Like Reply

David

Not necessarily. Imagine a gas station that has replaced it's gas storage tanks with large
banks of the same batteries. Still expensive, but it could use the standard grid to slowly
recharge recharge it's batteries all day and night, then transfer that stored power quickly
into the customers' vehicles.

4 weeks ago in reply to adarix 8 Likes Like Reply

p3av8or

Diesel turbine under the hood that lights when the battery gets to 10 percent! Fill up
a tank and drive cross country. This design was attempted in the 70's but the
batteries couldn't charge fast enough. High voltage for short periods are perfect for
this application.

3 weeks ago in reply to David Like Reply

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RT @wiredmag: [Gadgets] New Electrode Tech Could Recharge Batteries in Two Minutes: An

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