Quick-Charging Batteries Needed For Vehicles

Quick-charging batteries will be essential if the electric car industry is to flourish; who wants to take hours at the "pump"? The University of Illinois' Paul Braun, a professor of materials science and engineering, is one of the scientists working on an answer. He remarks:

"This system that we have gives you capacitor-like power with battery-like energy. Most capacitors store very little energy. They can release it very fast, but they can't hold much. Most batteries store a reasonably large amount of energy, but they can't provide or receive energy rapidly. This does both."

The speed at which conventional batteries are able to charge or discharge can be dramatically increased by changing the form of their active material into a thin film, but such films have typically lacked the volume to be able to store a significant amount of energy. In the case of Braun's batteries, however, that thin film has been formed into a three-dimensional structure, thus increasing its storage capacity.


( Braun's nanostructured bicontinuous cathode (left)
scanning electron microscope image of the nanostructure (right) )

To make the three-dimensional thin film, the researchers coated a surface with nanoscale spheres, which self-assembled into a lattice-like arrangement. The spaces between and around the spheres were then coated with metal, after which the spheres were melted or dissolved away, leaving the metal as a framework of empty pores. Electropolishing was then used to enlarge the pores and open up the framework, after which it was coated with a layer of the active material both lithium-ion and nickel metal hydride batteries were created.

The system utilizes processes already used on a large scale, so it would reportedly be easy to scale up. It could also be used with any type of battery, not just Li-ion and NiMH.

Hugo award-winning science fiction writer Philip Jose Farmer wrote about this kind of technology in his 1971 novel The Fabulous Riverboat; he called it a batacitor.

A giant step-down transformer of aluminum took the energy three times a day, sent it through Brobdignagian aluminum wires to a two-story device known as a batacitor. This was a late-twentieth-century electronic discovery that could accept hundreds of kilovolts in a hundredth of a microsecond and could discharge it at any rate from a tenth of a volt to one hundred kilovolts...

Via Gizmag; thanks to Chris Reed for submitting a tip on this story.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 3/23/2011)

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