Emerging Lithium-ion Battery Research to Transform the Energy Landscape

By now you've likely seen the news, picked up by countless outlets and reported here from a CNet blog that researchers at MIT have allegedly discovered a way to make lithium-ion batteries substantially more efficient, reducing their recharge time to seconds or minutes and vastly extending their potential range in electric vehicles.

Using a cathode composed of nanoballs of lithium iron phosphate, the researchers claim that this battery can recharge at 100 times the rate of current lithium ion batteries—or about 5 minutes for a battery pack that would ordinarily demand 8 hours. In other words, this battery can dispense charged lithium ions at a remarkably quick clip, thus overcoming the battery's traditional drawback.

It's certainly exciting, but there are caveats. What kind of power station would be required to charge a battery that quickly? No ordinarily plug or socket would do—rather, to juice up this plug-in battery you need the power equivalent of over 100 typical homes, creating a problem faced by the hydrogen fuel cell folks—no adequate infrastructure in place. On the current grid, power draws that huge are infrequent events that require some planning—not just 'pull up to the pump'.

Nonetheless, as noted in this Scientific American piece, experts like Yi Cui are jazzed up about the potential applications of this technology.

Who's Yi Cui? Thought you'd ask. Back in 2007, Popular Mechanics reported on some research published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology that hyped the contributions Cui, a Stanford researcher, was making to lithium ion technology.

Cui discovered that a change in the anode of a lithium-ion battery could expand its energy storage capacity by a factor of 10. He replaced the carbon anode with an anode composed not of standard silicon but of 100-nanometer-wide silicon nanowires, and he had succeeded in setting the battery through over 1,000 charge/recharge cycles.

Having literally cheated my way through high school chemistry, I will go ahead and imagine a lithium ion battery in a plug-in electric vehicle that had Cui's energy storage of 10 times the current capacity which could also be fully recharged in mere minutes.

That battery, properly applied, could revolutionize American energy consumption.

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