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Fast-Charging Lithium Batteries Disputed

But MIT inventors are holding fast-very fast indeed

3 min read

24 June 2009—A new material enabling lithium-ion batteries to charge in just 10 to 20 seconds is either too good to be true or more than 10 times better than advertised.  Those are the battle lines in a dispute that’s been erupting since late May among battery researchers over whether the material has the potential to transform the usability of electric vehicles (EVs).

The fight began with a report in the journal Nature in March 2009 by materials scientists at MIT claiming an ultrafast-charging form of lithium-iron phosphate, the material employed as the positive electrode, or cathode, in the most promising lithium-battery design for EV applications. Leading the attack against MIT’s claim is a quartet of physicists from the United States, Canada, and France. They include University of Texas mechanical engineering professor John Goodenough, one of the original inventors of the lithium-iron-phosphate cathode. The principal argument in their critique, which was based on a close reading of the Nature report and published online by the Journal of Power Sources on 30 May, infers that the material actually demonstrates only rapid discharge. ”They can discharge at that rate but not charge,” says Alain Mauger, a physicist at the Université Pierre et Marie Curie in Paris.

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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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