Wednesday, March 11, 2009

"ENERGY: MIT advance recharges batteries in seconds"

Lithium-ion batteries can be recharged in seconds using a surface treatment invented by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. By fabricating nano-scale grooves atop traditional lithium iron phosphate material, battery cells could be recharged up to 36 times faster (as little as 10 seconds) instead of six minutes or more per cell. The improved batteries also release energy more quickly, meaning they also could be used to boost acceleration in electric and hybrid cars at rates comparable to gasoline-powered engines. MIT researchers estimate that the ease with which the new technique can be applied to existing lithium-ion batteries, for which MIT has applied for a patent and already licensed to two companies, will begin appearing in commercial products in as little as two years.

BOTTOM LINE: Recharging batteries in seconds will revolutionize the wireless device industry by solving the last remaining stumbling block. Wireless recharging schemes, to appear later this year from Witricity and Fulton Innovations, can trickle charge batteries without requiring a physical connection, which makes sense when it took hours to recharge. However, if it only takes 10 seconds to recharge, wireless schemes loose much of their appeal. Since the innovation only involves modifying the way that lithium-ion batteries are constructed--adding a surface treatment to the bulk material--we could see batteries with under-a-minute recharge times in as little as two years. The biggest significance of the breakthrough will come from electric automobiles, since MIT's technology claims to make them a viable alternative to gasoline-powered vehicles, since recharging will take about the same time an filling your tank with gas does today, and the batteries will be able to deliver enough acceleration to satisfy the hot-rod in all of us.