Wednesday 15 October 2014

NTU team develops battery that gives ultra-fast charge

By Feng Zengkun, The Straits Times, 14 Oct 2014

PLUG your cellphone in and get a 70 per cent recharge in just two minutes. Sounds impossible?

Scientists at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) have developed an ultra-fast charge battery that could make this a reality within two years.

Laboratory tests showed that the advanced lithium-ion battery can also be recharged 10,000 times, which means it can last more than 20 years, compared with current rechargeable lithium-ion ones that typically last two to three years.

The scientists' work was published in international scientific journal Advanced Materials last month, and the technology is being licensed to a multinational company for eventual production.

The scientists declined to name the firm due to confidentiality agreements, but said they intend to apply for a proof-of-concept grant soon to build a large- scale prototype.

Associate Professor Chen Xiaodong from NTU's School of Materials Science and Engineering said the new battery could have an impact on a wide range of industries, including electric vehicles.

"Electric cars will be able to increase their range dramatically with just five minutes of charging, which is on a par with the time needed to pump petrol for conventional cars," he said.

The 10,000-cycle life of the new battery also means that the drivers would save on battery replacement costs.

The battery replaces the graphite - a form of carbon - used in one part with a new gel made of titanium dioxide.

An abundant, cheap and safe material found in soil, the dioxide is commonly used as a food additive and in sunscreen lotion to absorb ultraviolet rays.

The titanium dioxide gel is made of tiny nanotubes that are each a thousand times thinner than the diameter of a human hair.

This speeds up chemical reactions in the battery to enable the super-fast charge.

The charging speed, however, slows down after the first 70 per cent as it takes more time for ions to enter the battery, similar to how it takes more time to squeeze more people onto a crowded bus.

Other scientists have experimented with using titanium dioxide in batteries, but the NTU team's gel material eliminates additives typically needed for lithium-ion batteries. It is also easy to manufacture.

Prof Chen said he expects the batteries to hit the market within two years.

"We can also drastically cut down on the toxic waste generated by disposed batteries since our batteries last 10 times longer than the current generation of lithium-ion batteries."

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