New lithium-ion battery design charges electric vehicles in 10 minutes

Electric Vehicle Charging Photo by Shutterstock/guteksk7

Electric vehicle owners, rejoice. No longer will you cram your kids into the back seat on a cottage weekend only to realize you have to spend the next hour charging your car. A new lithium-ion battery design out of Penn State University makes it possible for electric vehicles to charge in 10 minutes. The charge lasts for approximately 320 km, eliminating anxieties about having enough juice to make it for most cottage commutes.

“It takes about 10 minutes to charge it from an empty battery to 80 per cent,” says Xiao-Guang Yang, a co-author on the study and an assistant research professor in mechanical engineering at Penn State.

This breakthrough comes at a particularly apt time, considering that, on October 9, the three scientists responsible for creating the lithium-ion battery, John B. Goodenough, M. Stanley Whittingham, and Akira Yoshino, were awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

Past versions of Li-ion batteries, however, have been limited by their short range and long charge times—most electric vehicles take between 40 and 60 minutes to fully charge. But with this new battery design, electric vehicles could be on par with traditional, gas-fuelled vehicles.

To achieve a faster charge, researchers heated the battery to 60°C. Normally, charging a battery at such a high temperature would cause the material to degrade, but these effects were mitigated by limiting the charge time to 10 minutes. Since the charge time is so short, the battery isn’t able to produce a lot of internal heat, meaning it cools quickly.

Researchers outfitted the battery with a self-heating nickel structure that can reach 60°C in less than 30 seconds. This allows the battery to charge quickly at a high temperature without degrading. In fact, the battery retained 91.7 per cent capacity after being charged 2,500 times. Researchers calculate that this is equivalent to 500,000 driving miles (approximately 805,000 km).

If the battery were left at 60°C for longer than 10 minutes, lithium plating could occur, with the formation of metallic lithium deposits around the anode during charging. Lithium plating forms when the battery is charged at too low or too high a temperature. “[Lithium plating] will significantly reduce battery life,” Yang says.

Further, the battery’s self-heating structure is totally independent, meaning it is unaffected by external temperatures. “In all outdoor temperatures, like in Canada, especially in the winter when it can be freezing, it doesn’t matter,” Yang says. Regardless of how cold and snowy a day it is, the battery will continue to charge at 60°C, thanks to the self-heating nickel structure.

The battery was designed using only commercially available materials, making it relatively easy to manufacture. This means you should see the battery on the market soon. “This technology has been licensed to several companies, including BMW,” Yang says. He adds that it could also benefit other products that use lithium-ion batteries, such as cellphones.

As for next steps, Penn State researchers are continuing to work on the technology, with the goal of reducing charge times from 10 minutes to five minutes. “If you can charge your car in five minutes, that’s literally the same as filling your gas tank,” Yang says. “That’s our ultimate goal.”

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