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Friday, 18 November 2011

My next car will be battery powered

... or maybe the next one or the one after that. Its going to happen eventually.  With Li-ion battery capacity likely to multiply by a factor of 10 in the next 5 years that means a Tesla Roadster with the current size of batteries would have a capacity of 2,450 miles.  OK I'll take a smaller range in return for less weight.  After all the more energy is stored the longer it takes to charge, but there is good news on that front too.

Northwestern University and Argonne National Laboratory this week published advances on research that takes on lithium ion batteries' weak spot: the electrodes that hold electric charge. Both efforts reflect the quest among researchers to improve batteries by improving the anode and cathode material used in today's lithium ion batteries.

With a better anode, the battery could be charged faster and have 10 times the energy storage capacity of current lithium ion batteries, according to Northwestern University researchers, who predict the technology could be available in three to five years.

Argonne's battery researchers, meanwhile, say that replacing the traditional graphite anode with titanium oxide could lead to batteries that can get half their full charge in less than 30 seconds. Perhaps not practical for cars but figure how that could help your phone.

Lithium ions in batteries move between the anode and cathode end of a battery, drawn by electrical charge. During discharge, the ions move in one direction and then the other during charging, traveling through a gel-like electrolyte. Northwestern University tried to address the speed with which those ions can move by creating a new anode material. Instead of using very thin sheets of carbon graphite, they put clusters of silicon between the sheets. This approach allows more lithium atoms to attach to the sheets since silicon can hold more lithium ions than carbon. By sandwiching the silicon between the carbon sheets and creating tiny holes on the sheets for the ions to move through, the silicon can maintain its integrity.

Researchers at Argonne National Laboratory are also working to replace graphite as the anode material but instead are using titanium oxide. The material was considered a poor candidate for anode materials since it its not a crystalline structure with well-understood electrical properties. But in the course of charging and discharging the battery, researchers said that the titanium oxide molecules began to line up in a way that could lead to much better performing batteries.

OK, I'll believe it when I see it, but if I see it, I'll buy it.

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