Scientists at Nangyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore have developed a new lithium-ion battery that can be recharged to 70% capacity in just two minutes. In addition to being able to charge your smartphone or electric car in just a few minutes, this new lithium-ion battery (LIB) can also endure more than 10,000 charge/discharge cycles — or about 20 times more than current LIBs. Perhaps most excitingly, though, NTU’s new Li-ion tech has already been patented, is compatible with existing battery manufacturing processes, and has “attracted interest from the industry.” Unlike many other lithium-ion battery advances, this one might actually hit the market within a couple of years.
As you’re probably aware, modern life (perhaps a little unnervingly or depressingly) is inextricably linked to batteries. How long a device lasts on battery power, and how long it takes to recharge, have a direct impact on most aspects of our work and social lives — and it’s only going to get worse as wearable computing, electric vehicles, and the internet of things take hold. While we do occasionally see incremental changes and improvements to battery technology, we are still mostly beholden to lithium-ion battery tech that was commercialized by Sony way back in 1991. NTU’s new lithium-ion battery design, which allows for ultra-fast recharging and extreme endurance, could be the big breakthrough that we desperately need.
NTU’s new battery, developed by Chen Xiaodong and friends, replaces the LIB’s customary graphite anode with a gel of titanium dioxide (TiO2) nanotubes. It’s news to me, but apparently titanium dioxide — a very cheap, plentiful substance that you might know as titania — is very good at storing lithium ions, and thus electrical charge. By using a nanostructured gel, the surface area of the anode — and thus its ability to quickly pick up lots and lots of lithium ions — is dramatically increased. The NTU research paper seems to mostly focus on the process used to create these titanium dioxide nanotubes. In short, though, they just stirred a mixture of titanium dioxide and sodium hydroxide — at at just the right temperature, the stirring encourages the TiO2 to form long nanotubes. Suffice it to say, this simple process is “easy to integrate” into current production processes. [DOI: 10.1002/adma.201470238 - "Nanotubes: Mechanical Force-Driven Growth of Elongated Bending TiO2-based Nanotubular Materials for Ultrafast Rechargeable Lithium Ion Batteries"]
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Currently, one of the biggest problems of lithium-ion batteries is that they can’t be charged very quickly. By replacing the graphite anode with NTU’s titanium dioxide gel, the researchers say they’ve created LIBs that can be recharged to 70% capacity in just two minutes. Furthermore, because the new gel is much more resistant to microfracturing and dendrite formation, the new batteries have extreme endurance of over 10,000 charge/discharge cycles — about 20 times more than current LIBs. This second feature is obviously big news for electric vehicles like the Tesla Model S, which will need a costly replacement battery pack every few years. “With our nanotechnology, electric cars would be able to increase their range dramatically with just five minutes of charging, which is on par with the time needed to pump petrol for current cars,” says Chen. The first feature — ultra-fast recharging — is awesome news for just about everyone.
NTU Singapore says the new LIB technology has already been patented (presumably the method of making TiO2 nanotubes), and has attracted interest from the industry. Chen says the first generation of fast-charging batteries should hit the market within two years. In the meantime, software-based fast charging solutions and power-saving modes should keep us out of the electro-mobility chasm for a little longer.