New Lithium-Ion Battery Tech Could Appear In Next Few Years

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Egg-like nanoparticles for lithium-ion batteries. [Image: Zhi Wei She et al., Stanford University]

Egg-like nanoparticles for lithium-ion batteries. [Image: Zhi Wei She et al., Stanford University]

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New battery technology is five years away, and always will be.

Well, that's the impression you might get whenever new technology is announced. Some of it is very, very clever indeed, but much of it is only theoretical, and the rest has rarely been tested on suitably large scales.

Silicon nanoparticle battery tech currently under development at the University of Southern California (USC) really could be only a few years away, should everything go to plan.

Most recent battery technology developments have focused on improving the materials used in the anode and cathode.

The easier you can get lithium ions to diffuse in and out of the anodes and cathodes, the faster a battery can be charged. The more ions you can store, the more charge you can store, and the better the materials, the longer the battery will last before performance degrades.

Recent developments in this area include the discovery of lithium accumulation in current batteries, and egg-like nanoparticles for storing more lithium ions.

USC's new tech, led by professor Chongwu Zhou, replaces traditional graphite anodes with a design using porous silicon nanoparticles.

Silicon is attractive for its low cost and high potential capacity, but previous experiments have seen particles break during charging and discharging. The new particles have been etched with pores, allowing them to stretch, and letting lithium ions to diffuse in and out of the battery more efficiently.

These new designs have lasted 2,000 charge and discharge cycles in testing, but their main benefits are speed and capacity.

A typical battery, as found in an electric vehicle or portable device, could charge in only ten minutes--and hold three times as much energy as current designs.

For the end user, that means electric cars (and phones, and laptops) which last for longer, and are out of action for less time.

They're all promises we've heard before, but as ever, we await production-level trials with interest.


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Comments (15)
  1. The real battery technological gap that needs to be closed isn't charge time, capacity or density. It's cost. If battery packs can be made at half their current cost, it's game over for ICE.

  2. For cost one of the big considerations is the number of charge cycles a battery can handle before it degrades too much. If they can increase that number it's going to drive cost down simply because you'll have to replace batteries less often.

  3. Actually it's all of the above. Cost is an important but complex issue. Up front cost are not necessarily an accurate indication of cost per mile which ultimately depends on cycle/calendar life.

    A parameter that is equally important to be sorted is charge time though. BEVs really need to be able to take in 150 miles worth of energy in less than 15 minutes some day to get close to the long distance practicality of an ICE vehicle.

  4. Assuming that long distance practicality is of such vital importance.

    It is an aspect which is eagerly emphasised in discussions about EV's, mostly because people tend to focus on the weaknesses of new technologies. Don't ask me why.

    But in real life, people weigh things on a combination of factors. You win some, you lose some. The EV doesn't have to be equal or better than the ICE car in every respect. It is the overall picture that ultimately decides its fate. Most people do not take long trips that often, and imo are likely inclined to take the longer recharge times for granted. Especially if the trade-off is never having to stop for gas again on the other 360 days in a year.

  5. Cost is related to $/lb, so whenever a claim is made to have 3x energy density, then that goes a long way towards 1/3 price.

    A similar claim was made about a year ago.

    Researchers at universities usually do not take their discovery to the next step. This is done by some company or entrepreneur willing to invest in the much larger cost of creating a viable manufacturing process that works at large scale instead of in a test tube. It might be some time before someone picks up on this and decides the investment is worthwhile.

  6. As I have said more than once, it's all about the batteries.
    Tesla can build an attractive vehicle, but its cost is obscene,
    its extended trip capabilities practically non-existent, and
    due to its tiny numbers, of no conceivable importance in the scheme of things, notwithstanding the self-promoting boasts of Elon Musk, author of the most misleading (to be generous) product claims of all time. ANY decent automaker can build an attractive car, and make it electric, given the right battery.
    A company (as Tesla demonstrates) doesn't even have to engineer a motor or transmission, which is far and away the most difficult engineering task for an ICE automaker. Pushing electric car technology without a practical battery is a total waste of time.

  7. I disagree with you with respect to Tesla being misleading. I think they have lived up to their promises, and the hype. And I do not think that any decent auto maker can build an attractive electric car. BMW and Ford have only concept/development cars. GM has only hybrids. The Nissan Leaf, for example is a great step, but it doesn't have a tenth the technology of Model S. And let's be honest, who wants to drive something that looks like that?

    We do agree on one thing, however. More affordable batteries are required before we hit a tipping point with EV's.

  8. As far as "technology" goes, GM's Volt is more than enough to be an EV as far as the technology involved. If GM swaps out the ICE for a larger battery, it will be easily a better EV than the Leaf.

    Even though I love Tesla and disagree with Kent Beauchert on many of his comments, I do admit he has some point. Tesla's battery, motor and controllers aren't unique. What prevent other automakers from using the same technology if the market takes off? Tesla certainly doesn't have the IP on the standard laptop battery. Its AC Induction motor is actually leverage from GM's old EV-1 technology.

    Sure, it has cool interior and touch screen, but none of that will prevent others from catching up quickly with enough funding and capacity...

  9. "As I have said more than once, it's all about the batteries."

    Wow, it really took an Einstein to figure that one out. An absolutely stunning insight.

  10. "These new designs have lasted 2,000 charge "

    Well, it needs to double that number before it is good enough to last 10-15 years...

  11. Lets see... at 300 miles per charge, 2000 cycles = 600,000 miles. And you claim it needs to double?

  12. Or you mean 265 EPA miles? That is Tesla ONLY, isn't it? What about Leaf? What about Focus EV or ANY AFFORDABLE BEVs?

    @ 70 miles per charge x 2,000 cycles, it is ONLY 140,000 miles. I want it to be Better than ICE, not just matching ICE.

    Even @ 265 miles, it is only 530,000 miles. That barely match life of the Induction Motor (bearing).

    If your idea of solving the widespread of BEV is by installing large battery pack so it would cost at least $80k per car, then BEVs will NEVER take off.

    Let us get real here...

  13. I was thinking that this new battery technology would be cheaper as well as smaller. This would make it possible for most EVs to have 300 mile range, not just to-days Teslas. Here you are comparing future tech with present day limitations, how real it that?

  14. "They're all promises we've heard before, but as ever, we await production-level trials with interest."
    That is the truth, isn't it?

  15. ...yeah, right....and which corporation is interested in products that are better and last longer??(what about profit, sales goals...) i`m sceptic :(

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