UCI doctoral candidate Mya Le Thai with experimental nanowire-based battery cellEnlarge Photo
Many of the obstacles impeding widespread electric-car adoption—including range, durability, charging times, and cost—can be traced to the limits of current battery technology.
That's produced a huge expansion in basic research into potential replacements for the lithium-ion chemistry that currently dominates the industry.
One such project is underway at the University of California, Irvine (UCI), where researchers claim to have invented a battery cell with a much longer lifespan than current cells.
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The nanowire-based cell can be recharged hundreds of thousands of times, well beyond what conventional lithium-ion cells can withstand, researchers say in a recently-published paper.
Nanowires are thousands of times thinner than a human hair, but have a lot of surface area, which is good for the storage and transfer of electrons.
However, they are also incredibly fragile, and in previous experiments, they didn't hold up well to repeated charging and discharging (known as "cycling").
2017 Chevrolet Bolt EVEnlarge Photo
UCI researchers increased the material's durability by coating a gold nanowire in a manganese dioxide shell, and using an electrolyte made from a Plexiglas-like gel.
A test version of this configuration was cycled up to 200,000 times over three months, and showed no sign of the nanowire-fracturing that had occurred in tests of other cells.
When used in conventional lithium-ion cells, nanowires typically become brittle and crack over time.
The decision of doctoral candidate Mya Le Thai to coat the nanowire in the gel was the key, said UCI chemist Reginald Penner, the study's senior author.
Typically, cells can only sustain 5,000 to 7,000 charging and recharging cycles, he said.
2016 Nissan LeafEnlarge Photo
The researchers believe the gel plasticizes the metal oxide in the battery cell, making it flexible and less prone to cracking.
Yet while this research shows that nanowire-based battery cells can be very durable, that doesn't mean it will translate into a commercial application.
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Positive results in the lab can't always be applied to production components, and even when they can, that can take years.
Still, nanowire-based cells may be one more new battery technology to watch as the industry continues to look for a replacement for today's lithium-ion chemistry.
[hat tip: ViperCro]