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Will New High-Power Microbatteries Matter For Electric Cars?

 
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We've heard it all before--new battery technologies appear, set to revolutionize the way we use electric products.

The story is the same for new microbatteries developed at the University of Illinois, but the researchers there are making even bigger claims than most.

Imagine a battery so small it could feature in a credit card-sized cellphone, charge in mere seconds, with enough power to jump-start a car. Now imagine it scaled up for use in an electric vehicle.

All the above scenarios are a possibility with the new microbattery technology, and the researchers say it finally brings batteries up to the level of the gadgets they power.

Other intriguing statistics include power outputs enough to enable batteries to shrink by 30 times, and charging times 1,000 times faster than today's batteries--the aforementioned cellphone could charge in less than a second.

The technology is at the cutting edge of current scientific processes, the latest to use nanotechnology to advance materials. Anode and cathode use a three-dimensional microstructure for faster energy transfer and higher power outputs.

There are limitations of course, which researchers are currently working around.

According to James Pikul, first author of a paper in the Nature Communications journal, "There’s a sacrifice--If you want high energy you can’t get high power; if you want high power it’s very difficult to get high energy."

"But for very interesting applications, especially modern applications, you really need both. That’s what our batteries are starting to do."

Limitations in place, the batteries' practical use in vehicles would be limited--an electric car could offer plenty of power, or a long range, but not both.

But with development, the potential could be huge--as Mashable speculates, light-weight electric cars could emerge with charging times quicker than filling a gas tank. It would be green to charge too--solar power generated during the day could be stored with great efficiency, used to charge your car (and phone, and tablet PC, and more) whenever required.

As usual, we'll note that the technology is a long way from use in electric vehicles.

But it might not be as far away from other consumer electronics--Professor William King told Mashable he expects to see the technology used in consumer products just 1-2 years from now, replacing supercapacitors in radios and personal electronics.

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Comments (10)
  1. Energy density is more important for electric cars than power density. There are already a load of batteries around that can charge fast enough that the limiting factor on the charge length is the charger or electricity supply and not the battery.
     
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  2. Correct. We don't have a battery technology problem.

    For example, a Tesla Roadster goes up to 300 miles on a charge, but it costs nearly $100K.

    What we have is a battery cost problem.

    And if you look at the way things have worked in the past, new technology won't solve this issue. For example, look at flat screen TVs. 10 years ago, people were looking for new technologies to solve the seemingly insurmountable cost issues associated with large screen LCD TVs. DLP, OLED, and other new technologies were all the rage. Now, 10 years later, large screen LCD TVs are relatively cheap. They just needed a decade to figure out how to get the cost down.

    It will be the same with electric cars. Li/Ion batteries will just get cheaper.
     
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  3. Actually the source article seems to suggests the power/ energy density balance of this battery could be tweaked at will. Even if that were not the case lack of power or energy density could easily be compensated by using many cells since they are tiny anyway (which suggests cheap)to create a pack that could both store a lot of energy and have high power output.

    Doesn't really matter though. Like with all miracle battery announcements we will never hear from this technology again and it would be so interesting to know why that invariably is the case.
     
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  4. Production at a commercial scale and a price that the market will accept limits up take. That's why we're not all driving fuel cell vehicles, they cost a fortune (and hydrogen is a pain in the ass).
     
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  5. Since it's possible now to have 300 mile range EV's a better battery isn't needed. Though you are right 99% of 'better battery' PR's never get produced.

    The problem is big auto that refuses to give us the EV's and Ice's for that matter we need.

    EV's need to be 50% or more less weight and better aero and both can be had simply by switching to composite uni-bodies with the weight savings cascading down the cost of everything else.

    Aero has no cost other than design. Yet big auto rarely uses it. And no reason as some very different and beautiful shapes can be very aero.

    And why are there not under 1,000lb commuter vehicles, gas or electric? MC's sale show there is a market for subcars.
     
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  6. If batteries face the choice of high power or high energy storage and they are very small, then the solution may be simple: a compound battery with software that optimizes both types as a system.
     
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  7. Actually Elon Musk explains it much better on one of his interviews on Youtube. A 40 mile range battery (Volt) needs to be at least half the size/weight of a 300 mile battery (85kW Tesla), because the 40 mile battery has to work so much harder to deliver the power to go down the road (which is broadly the same in both cases). That leads it to have a lower energy density. Therefore provided you have a very large high density battery, you will get plenty of power anyway! And a huge range :)
     
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  8. Well, higher energy/power can easily be "mixed" in the design to accomendate for both.

    Have about 30% of the pack for high power application and rest for high energy density....
     
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  9. The advantages of high power micro-batteries are many. Smaller sizes will make it easier to use them as vehicle structures like frames and bodies, similar to what they do with carbon fiber nowadays. The disadvantages of batteries are pretty much the same as those of gasoline. They both store potential energy. According to energy conservation you can never get more than what you put into your system. A fully loaded battery or a full tank of gas is going to deliver a certain( fixed)amount of energy (no more or less). It is up to the user how he/she wants that energy to be delivered (rate). If you maximize power energy spending is high and depletion comes sooner. If you reduce spending then you will simply save more for later. For a battery
     
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  10. mass will always matter i.e. two batteries made of the same chemicals, the one with bigger mass will obviously deliver more energy. The future of a long range EV will happen in a vehicle where the entire body, structures and frames are "the batteries", and battery miniaturization will have a key role to achieve that goal as well as to optimize power weight ratio of future Ev's. IMO, power and top speed are OK for today's Ev's. Range is the issue. Extending the range up to 500 miles at a power rate that will allow Ev's cruise at highways' speed limits will put Ev's right on the money.
     
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