Electric vehicles aren't always associated with speed and performance, but researchers at North Carolina State University may have discovered a breakthrough to change those qualities inside their batteries.
Of all things, water may hold the key to faster electric-car battery technology.
Researchers compared two materials, a crystalline tungsten oxide and a layered, crystalline tungsten oxide hydrate—which consists of crystalline tungsten oxide layers separated by atomically thin layers of water.
When charging each material, the regular material was able to store more energy overall—but the hydrate showed promise if the charge time was diminished.
When charging each material for just 12 seconds, the hydrate stored the energy more efficiently and wasted less heat.
The idea is that using atom-thin water layers may provide a way to "tune" the transport of ions and provide a best-of-both-worlds battery.
BMW i3 electric car at EVgo DC fast-charging station
That is, a battery that could store high amounts of energy, but also moves ions very quickly to provide higher output.
"Incorporating these solvent layers could be a new strategy for high-powered energy-storage devices that make use of layered materials," said Veronica Augustyn, an assistant professor of materials science and engineering.
"We think the water layer acts as a pathway that facilitates the transfer of ions through the material."
So what does this mean for the potential future of battery technology?
The use of water as a tuner could eventually help batteries slim down, allowing for greater energy storage in smaller units.
Getting back to the performance aspect, researchers think it could also allow faster acceleration in electric vehicles—perhaps offering Tesla P100D performance for all?
2017 Tesla Model X
A third scenario is the possibility of renewable-based power grids, though researchers didn't greatly expand on that possibility.
The material is still early in the development stage, but North Carolina State University is moving forward with its discovery.
Now, researchers will look at how the water layer can be fine-tuned to suit various duty cycles and uses for lithium-ion cells.
As always, it's worth noting that promising early lab results don't always translate into commercially viable and affordable products.
Still, if water—of all things—proves to unlock better performance from batteries, that's certainly a convenience for researchers.
And unlike rare-earth elements that face supply constraints and ecological concerns over mining, water is an easily obtainable substance.