A Rapid-Recharge Lithium Battery

MIT scientists tweak lithium formula to let battery discharge in seconds

2 min read

11 March 2009—Materials scientists at MIT report that they’ve invented a new kind of lithium-ion battery that can fully charge or discharge in seconds instead of minutes. If commercialized, the battery could allow future hybrid cars to rapidly recharge their batteries, or it may lead to new consumer products, the scientists say.

Batteries have a high-energy but low-power density. That is, they can store a lot of energy but can’t release it quickly. Batteries, such as those used in electric cars, ”have a lot of energy, so you can drive at 55 miles per hour for a long time, but the power is low. You can’t accelerate quickly,” says Gerbrand Ceder, professor of materials science and engineering at MIT. Devices called ultracapacitorsact in the opposite manner, storing less energy but releasing it in a hurry. The new battery chemistry, invented by Ceder and his graduate student Byoungwoo Kang, gives lithium-ion batteries a performance more akin to that of ultracapacitors.

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This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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