Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have developed what they believe could be a solution to one of the fundamental challenges facing advanced vehicle battery engineers: increasing power and reducing charge times without creating additional anode wear, which depletes the energy storage of a battery and the range of an electric vehicle.
One of the major limitations of anode materials is that they break down as ions are transferred to and from their surface during charge and discharge. Using rows of stacked nanoparticles, the RPI team was able to create an anode capable of withstanding 40 to 60 times the power of currently available lithium ion batteries through 100 complete charge cycles—without showing significant signs of degradation.
What could this mean for electric vehicles, laptops, cell phones and other products that are powered by lithium ion batteries? While the technology is still far from being adapted for market—and construction or cost issues could ultimately stifle its viability—the new anode material could one day cut charging times to minutes on the hour.
The key to the RPI nanomaterial is its added surface area, which results mostly from an expanded scoop-shaped layer of silicon that reduces stress from incoming and outgoing ions.
In addition to the basic charging advantages, there are other potential bonuses associated with the new material.
Current electric vehicle batteries rely on supercapacitors to perform more power-intense functions, but “nanoscoops” could one day render them unnecessary, since all power requirements could be met by the battery itself. Researchers are also hopeful that the nanostructures could one day be “grown” onto flexible structures that can be molded to fit the curves and space limitations of electric vehicles.
Though researchers have studied nanotechnology in an effort to improve batteries in the past, this latest breakthrough seems to be a bit more promising by comparison—if not in its prospects for making it to market, then at least in its theoretical potential.