Saturday science subject: Charging your laptop in seconds


— 3:35 PM on March 14, 2009

A new battery technology breakthrough could change the way we use handheld devices and perhaps even electric cars. According to Scientific American, MIT scientists have improved upon the popular lithium-ion battery design to reduce charging times by a factor of about 100:

In an attempt to pick up the pace, the M.I.T. researchers coated the lithium iron phosphate material with an ion conductor, which in this case was a layer of glasslike lithium phosphate. Sure enough, the charge-carrying ions traveled much faster from their storage medium; a prototype battery the scientists built completely charged in about 10 to 20 seconds.

The results have impressed some battery experts. "I think this work is a really exciting breakthrough with clear commercial applications," says Yi Cui, an assistant professor of materials science and engineering at Stanford University.

Commercial applications may come sooner rather than later, too. MIT graduate student Byoungwoo Kang says two companies have already licensed the technology, and these new quick-charging batteries should be "relatively cheap to produce."

Beyond the obvious implications for devices like cell phones and laptops, the new battery design could also vastly increase the mobility of battery-powered electric cars. But there's a catch. Scientific American explains, "Residences cannot draw enough energy from the electrical grid to quickly charge a hybrid car's battery containing the new material." Repurposed gas stations with "greater power pull" could do the trick, though.

   
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