A group of Mississippi State University researchers in the school’s Center for Computational Sciences, the Department of Physics and Astronomy, the Department of Chemistry with collaborators at Florida State University’s Department of Physics and the Center for Materials Research and Technology has a new lithium ion battery charging technique in early research.  The results are quite promising. (a pdf file)

Much is made about energy density, power density and other gross capacity metrics – the metrics of energy by weight and volume matter and are important.  Yet batteries that can be used for a short time until depleted to the optimum level can take only tens of minutes and then need hours to recharge.  One serious issue is charging time – it will matter in the market – that deserves much more research, marketing and consumer attention.

A hypothetical scenario could be in a few year time that one has a 50-mile range EV or hybrid EV.  One would likely run through the 50 miles each day in say about 75 minutes.  One assumes, at some risk, that recharge would take place over night between midnight or 1am and 6 or 7am for a six-hour recharge.  So what if you need the car at 2:30am?  Then what?  For this writer it seems that 4 or so times a year someone is wrenching him out of bed for something or another.

Trading 75 minutes for 6 hours isn’t ideal.  But say the 75 minutes could be traded for 2 hours?  If that is a full recharge, then an hour would be a half charge and the errand in the middle of the night might also allow time for a full morning charge.  I’m interested if not wholly in support of such research. Key on and go, with minimized time on charging will have a huge impact sooner or later. With real world experience we can count on sooner.

The team is proposing a new charging method for Lithium-ion batteries that uses an additional oscillating electric field to reduce the average intercalation time, and thus the charging time. The dependence of the intercalation time on the applied field amplitude is exponential, and thus there is the potential for very fast charging times.

Oscillating Wave Effect on Lithium ion Battery. Click image for more info.

Lithium ion battery recharging compels the Lithium ions to diffuse back to the charged state.  When the team used an oscillating electric field, within the first 2 nanoseconds of simulation the root-mean-square displacement reaches a value close to its limiting value defined by the finite size of the system, while much slower diffusion is seen for the simulations without the oscillating field.

The lithium ions also need to be, in the case of the researcher’s battery setup, intercalated between the graphite sheets.  Over the course of the team’s simulation runs the intercalation was seen to be more responsive to the oscillating field’s amplitude.  The diffusion rates meanwhile, seem to be minimally affected by the amplitude changes.

In a lab, with simple battery construction, simulation runs by computer, the teams seems to have a path identified that could cut charge times by 2/3rds or so – just in the first set of simulation trials.

Admittedly this is just a step out of theoretical.  Yet as noted in the hypothetical above, shaving charging times will become important.  Hacking off two thirds of the charge time would be great – a goal worth considerable effort.

The team’s new input, an external oscillating square-wave field was applied in the direction perpendicular to the plane of the anode graphite sheets, seems to have offered a fascinating starting point for further investigation.  While the team’s paper isn’t discussing the field’s total power, and the simulation battery is a quite small custom-built research unit, the application of minor but highly specialized energy inputs that have such impressive results bodes well for future battery performance.

Weight, volume, usable capacity, charge and discharge rate, construction materials, manufacturing costs, interfaces, and the charger expense are all coming into the equation.  While not a huge matter for small devices where the power needs are declining along with the battery capacity requirements – vehicle battery installs are going to go the other way.  It’s refreshing and something of a relief to see that the research is underway.

The team’s future work will consider the effect of different frequencies, as well as quantitative comparison with electrochemical experiments where samples or lab construction will permit tests.  Lets hope this team gets a bundle of funding and some corporate support.  We’re in the first years of battery development into the scales where electric vehicles are feasible.  Fast recharge might be the difference between simple market acceptance or a market explosion.

A hat tip to Brian Wang at his nextbigfuture site for spotting the news.


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