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Fast Charging Battery Research: Hot, Super High-Tech & Wowing!
Since the popularization of mobile phones, the importance of rechargeable electric batteries has steadily increased worldwide. According to Wikipedia, in 2013, there were approximately 6.8 billion mobile phones in use worldwide (including smartphones) and 97 out of every 100 people in the world owned at least one mobile phone. This figure includes some of the poorest among us. While a large number of users do not go beyond just making voice calls (and rarely text messages), the availability of free, excellent, easy-to-use ‘apps’ (or applications), which grow in variety and number by the day. , is gradually attracting many in this category to become ‘core’ mobile phone users. Many people who use PCs as their primary computing device today, aware that PCs will soon cede their dominant position in the computing world, are also turning to smartphones. These factors are expected to increase the number of smartphone users by 35% by 2020 (or 9.2 billion users globally).
As smartphones become thinner, lighter, smarter, use larger displays and so on, they are also more power hungry. Thus, the success of future smartphones requires a critical need for high-capacity, super-fast charging batteries that can be recharged on a large scale before being discarded.
There are other important applications too, which depend on fast charging batteries for their health. One is the much-hyped electric vehicle (EV) industry. Users expect the battery recharge time to be comparable to the time it takes to refuel at a gas station today, on the order of about 4-5 minutes. Another very important application is in smart grids – those intelligent electric power management stations, where electricity input and outflow to users is managed. Large capacity, fast charging/discharging batteries are required to store excess energy (whenever input exceeds demand) and release it whenever there is a deficit. Somewhat less critical, yet important, are fast-charging batteries used in smart watches, smart homes, and personal health devices (PHDs).
A few years ago, it became unequivocally clear that lithium-ion batteries (the best battery technology currently in use) would be completely inadequate for future needs. The gap between Li-ion technology and the projected batteries of the future is so great that it has become very clear that nothing short of a “quantum leap” (or revolution) in battery technology will suffice. Therefore, while it was not yet in the news, feverish and frenzied research was initiated in several leading university and corporate R&D centers, leading to future high battery technologies with features such as: charge times on the order of minutes or even seconds (wow!), light weight (EV halved in terms of batteries), greater capacity, safety (expected electrical fires and explosions reminiscent of the Boeing 787 accidents of 2013! ), significantly lower costs, easier handling and cycle times in the thousands and tens-of-thousands!
Many in the scientific community have recently been stunned by the thought of achieving a “quantum leap” in technology within 1-2 years. But now the situation has changed! As humans, in recent times, have advanced the frontiers of scientific knowledge by unprecedented leaps, today’s researchers, sitting at the pinnacle of scientific knowledge, offer highly promising solutions at the drop of a hat!
So here is a line-up of the most promising technologies being researched at the time of writing this article. (Note: Fast charging battery research is currently filled with many alternative technologies competing for No. 1. Since there are so many, the author has not attempted to present an exhaustive list. Instead, the list below represents the best of the lot, in his opinion.)
Aluminium-Graphite Technology (See Reference No. 2 and 4 for more details):
At the top of the list is aluminum-graphite technology being developed at Stanford University in the US. 1 minute (yes, 60 seconds!) charge time keeps it flowing. Although its capacity is about half that of Li-ion, it makes up for this shortfall with its incredible charge time. Aluminum-graphite lasts at least 7,500 cycles, compared to Li-Ion’s life of about 1000 charge cycles. It’s even safer than Li-ion – researchers say it won’t catch fire even if you drill through it!
Aluminum-Air Technology (for EVs) (Ref No. 1 & 2):
In aluminum-air (Al-Air) batteries, oxygen from the air is used at the cathode and, consequently, a separate oxidizer is unnecessary. This type of battery has an energy density that can supply an EV on par with its gasoline-powered counterparts. The range on a single, full charge is about 1000 miles! If you drive up to 2000 miles a month you may need a few recharges!
The amazing thing about this battery is that it is half the weight of current lithium batteries. By depleting half the weight of the battery, you have more payload to carry passengers and luggage (note: the battery is, by far, the heaviest component of an EV. For example, in the Tesla Roadster, the battery contributes about one-third of the total weight, so the weight saved is one-sixth of the total weight, is significant).
Aluminum-Air Technology (for EVs) (Ref No. 2):
This is different from the al-air technology discussed above. Wow because it runs on water (normal as well as sea water) and has 40 times the capacity of Li-Ion!
Nanotechnology-Based Fast Charging (Ref No. 5):
Storedot Limited, an Israeli high-tech company that makes fast charging batteries, will soon come out with “FlashBattery for Smartphones”, a universal smartphone charger. The company uses proprietary organic compounds prepared/manipulated using nanotechnology.
What makes it wowing? It can recharge any phone, regardless of make or model, in under a minute (max)!
Apart from phones, the charger can be used to charge wearables, PDAs, tablets and the like. However, there is a catch – although proven, it is not yet commercially available! It may take a year from now to be available in retail stores.
StoreDot will also soon offer “FlashBattery for EVs,” a fast charger for electric cars. This product will charge a car battery in just five minutes!
Fast charging over radio waves (reference no. 2):
In this technology, the electrical energy used for charging is transmitted over radio waves.
It is wireless and charges from a distance of 20 feet. And there is also a catch – it is not immediately available in the market.
Organic Flow Technology (Reference No. 2 and Wikipedia):
Developed by MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), organic current technology generates electricity using an organic substance, AQDS (9,10-anthraquinone-2,7-disulphonic acid) as a charge carrier.
Amazes us with a 97% (battery source) power generation cost reduction – metal batteries provide 1 KWh of power for $700, while organic flow batteries give you that much power for just $27!
NANOBATTERIES (Ref No. 2, 6 and Wikipedia):
Nanobatteries are made from batteries of “nano” size (ie sizes in the range of 10 to -9 m). “Nano” batteries are made by placing two electrodes in a small hole (or “nanopore”) in an electrically insulating membrane or metal compound (such as aluminum oxide) separated by a thin insulating film. A large number of “nanopores” are mixed together to form a complete battery.
Is there anything outstanding about them? Yes! Nanopores are so small in size that they cannot be seen individually. They can hold four times the energy of Li-Ion and can be fully charged in 10 minutes. In addition, they have a lifespan of about 1,000 charge cycles.
NTU’s Lithium-Titanium Dioxide Technology (for EVs) (Reference No. 7 and Wikipedia):
This is a breakthrough in technology from Singapore-based Nanyang Technological University (NTU). By replacing the graphite cathode found in Li-ion batteries with a low-cost gel made from titanium dioxide, NTU claims to have developed an ultra-fast charging battery that charges to 70% of its capacity in two minutes! Apart from the two-minute charge time, what’s amazing is its amazing 20-year lifespan.
Targeting primarily electric vehicles, the battery life factor is expected to significantly reduce the costs incurred from frequent battery replacements.
Note: As mentioned earlier, fast charging battery research is currently a developing field filled with many alternative technologies that are promising. Technologies based on metallic foam substrates, silicon, sodium-ion, urine-powered microbial fuel cells, solar, hydrogen, candle soot, and many others were excluded in the creation of the above list, which is the author’s opinion. A very notable omission is Meredith Perry’s “over the air charging” technology, which uses electricity transmitted by ultrasound for charging. A long-awaited, highly-anticipated technology not long ago, it failed to pass recent evaluation tests that dropped it from consideration.
Reference: (Reference numbers 3 to 7 need to be cut+pasted into your browser to access)
1. Geoffrey Marlowe, “The 10 Hottest Fields of Science Research,” 10 Hottest Fields of Science Research | Wired, http://www.wired.com/2013/08/the-10-hottest-fields-of-science-research/
2. Pocket-lint, “Batteries of the Future, Coming Soon: Charge in Seconds, Last Months, and Charge Over Air,” Batteries of the Future, Coming Soon: Charge in Seconds, Last Months, and Charge Over Air – Pocket-lint, http://www.pocket-lint.com/news/130380-future-batteries-coming-soon-charge-in-seconds-last-months-and-power-over-the-air
3. ScienceDaily,”Batteries Research,” Batteries News — ScienceDaily, sciencedaily.com/news/matter_energy/batteries/
4. Stanford University, “Aluminum battery at Stanford offers safer alternative to conventional batteries,” news.stanford.edu/news/2015/march/aluminium-ion-battery-033115.HTML
5. StoreDot Ltd.,”FlashBattery for Smartphones,” StoreDot What we do, store-dot.com/#!smartphones/c1u5l
6. Ars Technica,”New Battery Made of Lots of Nanobatteries,” | Ars Technica, arstechnica.com/science/2014/11/new-battery-composed-of-lots-of-nanobatteries/
7.Nanyang Technological University, “NTU develops ultra-fast charging batteries that last 20 years,” news detail, media.ntu.edu.sg/NewsReleases/Pages/newsdetail.aspx?news=809fbb2f-95f0-4995-b5c0- 10544ae
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