We all know that electric vehicles will be all over the road when battery technology moves forward to provide more driving range, quicker recharging and reduced cost. And now it looks like technology is making battery electrons finally move in the right direction!
At present, lithium-ion batteries have a limited driving range, a relatively long recharge time and high cost. This makes the price of new electric cars such as the Nissan Leaf or Chevy Volt expensive and out of reach for many drivers. What driver wants to pay more for an electric car than it will save in fuel? Consumers rightfully are saying, show me the ‘money’ savings!
Now, however, the Economist reports that Paul Braun and colleagues at the University of Illinois, Urbana- Champaign, have developed a prototype battery that can be recharged to about 90 percent in only minutes, or the time equivalent to a gas fill up!
But before we get ahead of ourselves, realize that regardless of the type of battery, they work in a similar manner. They contain two electrodes (anode and cathode) connected by an electrically conductive substance (usually electrolyte).
When a battery provides electricity, electrons (negatively charged) move from anode to cathode through a connective circuit (electrolyte in most of today’s batteries). Additionally, positively charges ions move from the anode to cathode to balance the charges of both electrodes. During battery recharge, electrons are forced to move in the opposite direction and the ions return to their former location.
Lithium-ion has recently been used as the positive component of batteries as it is light weight and weight for weight, it stores the most energy. However, nickel-metal hydride batteries continue to be used in automotive applications as their cost is much cheaper than lithium-ion ones.
Professor Braun decided to build rapid recharge version of both the lithium-ion and nickel-metal batteries.
A battery’s recharge rate depends on the area of contact between the electrolyte and the electrodes. In other words, when these components are close, the battery will recharge fast but its power output will be short (low driving range). On the other hand, the greater the volume of the electrodes, the longer the power output (high driving range) but longer recharge times are required (who wants to wait around all day to drive again?). The best of both worlds are to have a battery with a large contact area and without reduced electrode volume. In other words, a battery with quick charging and long driving range.
Dr. Braum is working to create a lithium-ion battery with nickel components that will recharge about 90 percent in two minutes and provide an acceptable driving range. And he is getting close to making a breakthrough!
Do you remember the ‘analogy’ questions in school that went something like: If A is to B and B is to C then A is …? Such a battery manufacturing breakthrough as Braum and his colleagues are working on could be equated with as oil was to refinery.
I knew those analogies were important! And when your kids ask why they are important? Well, you can respond – Because I said so and so that you can drive some day without working all week to fill the tank, battery or whatever!