Saturday science subject: Charging your laptop in seconds

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.

Comments closed
    • moritzgedig
    • 11 years ago

    Nice but useless. A battery with 100x the capacity would turn the world upside down. In fact a battery with 3x the capacity would do so.
    We need another way to store electicity than by ionising, something closer to burning or something physical. A beta^- nuclear reaction that is reversable or something like that. Or we go back to batterys that use Air, but really efficiently.

      • moritzgedig
      • 11 years ago

      I need to correct myself, now I do see some use to this.
      One could trade capacity for charging-time.
      If you can charge the battery often WHILE traveling it would be usefull.
      say you stop for 15 minutes every 100 miles and charge the car.

      You guys need to remember that not every country has a cripled powergrid that operates at 110V.
      In Europe one could charge 60 cells in series, using one current. every few minutes one could change to a ballancing charge.

    • Xenolith
    • 11 years ago

    I’m rooting for ultra capacitors. Already being used for small things like electric drills – §[<http://www.colemanflashcellscrewdriver.com/<]§

    • ub3r
    • 11 years ago

    If a 2AH (typical AA battery) battery was to charge in 20 seconds it needs to draw 360 amps from the charger. Thats more current than what you need to start a car engine.

    Now, laptops are usually 4 – 6 AH, so to charge them in 20 seconds, we would need close to 1000Amps. And that’s if everything runs 100% efficient. 1000Amps at 14.8 volts is 14.8KW. LOL.

    Now, even if we wanted to charge a laptop in 10mins, thats 36 amps. Thats equivalent to a 1000watt computer PSU, just to charge the laptop in 10mins. Current laptop charger’s charge at around 5 amps, and they usually take 1 hour or more for a full charge. They are already big enough, and already get hot enough. If they were to charge at anything near or over 10 amps, they would certainly need active cooling. Let alone 36 amps.

    BTW, electric cars will never benefit from this. They have 1000AH battery banks and already draw over 10KW/Hr to charge. You already need a 3 phase electric supply to charge an electric car in under 2 hours. So to charge them in under 10 mins, you will need a gaziillion watt power socket that will practically burn anywhere near that power draw, thus making this whole concept of 10 min car charge flawed. Our whole power distribution system will burn from heat because of the I²R losses. Only solution is to have a super conducting power distribution grid which i dont think is gonna happen. well not anytime soon i think.

    BUSTED!!

      • blastdoor
      • 11 years ago

      So it sounds like what you need is a bolt of lightning. Just be sure to get the car up to 88 mph.

        • NeronetFi
        • 11 years ago

        LOL thank you for the morning laugh 🙂

        Dont forget you need “1.21 jiggawatts”

      • just brew it!
      • 11 years ago

      No, you just need some stationary batteries or capacitors that you charge locally (i.e. in your garage) at a more reasonable rate. You can set the charge rate so that it takes all day, or set it to charge overnight when other demands for electricity are low.

      The only thing that needs to be able to handle the really huge surge is the wiring between the stationary battery/capacitor bank and the battery in the vehicle.

      ludi and I have been kicking this idea back and forth in our past few posts.

        • ub3r
        • 11 years ago

        So.. ill still need to use a set of jumper leads to charge my laptop?

        And batteries aren’t 100% efficient, they are typically 80% efficient for one complete cycle.

        And you cant use super capacitors, because there energy density is nowhere near batteries, and there voltage drops off with linearly with discharged capacity.

          • just brew it!
          • 11 years ago

          q[

      • moritzgedig
      • 11 years ago

      Not every country has a cripled powergrid that operates at 110V.
      In Europe one could charge 60 cells in series, using one current. every few minutes you could change to a ballancing charge.
      Every household has an 3-phase 400V connection, that is good for charging 300 cells at ones.
      Say a car has an 1000Ah battery at 3.7V/cell one could charge it in 15 minutes at 15A. I just wonder if the energiemeter breaks from spinning to fast. => BUSTED!!

    • blastdoor
    • 11 years ago

    I don’t believe anything from MIT. It seems like they overhype their research more than just about anybody.

    • xii
    • 11 years ago

    With last year’s news full of stories about broken and exploding batteries, one can only hope that these new battery technologies are tested thoroughly…

    • glacius555
    • 11 years ago

    Good news indeed, but I just can’t stop wondering, why so late? Why did it take them forever to realize that such “upgrade” would decrease charging time?

      • ludi
      • 11 years ago

      Ehrm, “forever”? What’s your time horizon for inventions, considering that practical, commercial lithium ion batteries are less than twenty years old?

        • glacius555
        • 11 years ago

        Maybe “forever” was a bit too much:) Here is a comparison, it takes app. 10-12 years for an idea to become a pharmaceutical drug on sale.

          • ludi
          • 11 years ago

          Sure, but I don’t see what that’s supposed to show us, other than the fact that chemistry is hard. In fact, the majority of pharma research paths that get explored in a pharma R&D process get thrown out for one reason or another, but you don’t know what doesn’t work until you’ve tried it, and meanwhile it occupies resources that can’t be used to explore other paths.

          Perhaps a more relevant, high-tech example is the LED. The first LED was created in a lab in 1920, but commercial devices didn’t come about until 1962 and /[

            • glacius555
            • 11 years ago

            My example was to point out that it takes ONLY 10 years to create a drug from practically nothing:) I was more wondering why something so obvious took them a while to figure out. Even though Li-ion is 20 years old, I believe that it shouldn’t take a decade to realize that ion coating would improve charging times. Then again, I might be wrong, they must have realized it a long time ago and simply needed solid results in the form of lithium phosphate to finally publish..

            • eitje
            • 11 years ago

            i believe this is only obvious in hind-sight.

            I suggest that you read the ArsTechnica article, since it has a lot more of the science background in it:
            §[<http://arstechnica.com/science/news/2009/03/lithium-breakthrough-could-charge-batteries-in-10-seconds.ars<]§

      • just brew it!
      • 11 years ago

      All technological advances look easy in hindsight.

    • ludi
    • 11 years ago

    Two big unaswered questions: heat generation, and discharge cycles.

    If 10-20 seconds charging time on the prototype represents ALL of the promised 100x reduction in charging time, then an equivalent cell built on the old technology would charge in 17-33 mintutes, which as a wild guess, I would speculate as being a typical 3.7V personal electronics battery at maybe 250mAh maximum. Given that it was a prototype cell, half that much wouldn’t be unreasonable

    Cell phones and personal media players tend to have batteries more on the order of 750-1200mAh. While the technology would theoretically charge such a cell in a minute or two, how hot does it get, and can a battery at that charge density surivve the heating?

    And then there’s the question of how many times a device manufactured this way can be recharged before it breaks down. The technology sounds amazing in short article form, but AFAICT neither of these issues was even hinted at.

      • Heiwashin
      • 11 years ago

      They never list the issues preventing it from being a widespread adopted manufacturing technique. Keeping up with dailytech’s page at least weekly amuses me, at least twice a week there’s a new revolutionary solar cell upgrade that promises 200% increased efficiency or similar ideas that only work well in a lab with a massive budget.

      • eitje
      • 11 years ago

      I think the ArsTechnica treatment of this tech announcement answered at least the second of your questions.

      edit:
      q[http://arstechnica.com/science/news/2009/03/lithium-breakthrough-could-charge-batteries-in-10-seconds.ars<]§

      • TurtlePerson2
      • 11 years ago

      The 10-20 seconds is probably on a special plug, not the standard 120V stuff we have coming into our house. In order to charge a laptop that draws 100 watts and runs for 2 hours, you’d need 720,000 joules of energy. Compress that energy into 10 seconds and you have 72,000 watts. That seems like a bit much to be coming out of the wall.

      Realistically this technology will allow people to charge their iPods in 5 minutes rather than 5 hours.

        • ludi
        • 11 years ago

        That’s one of the reasons why I don’t think that charge time listed for the prototype is representatiive of a very large battery cell.

          • just brew it!
          • 11 years ago

          The power draw issue could be addressed by having two batteries using this technology. One in your car, and one that sits in your basement (or garage), charging itself continuously. When you need to recharge the one in the vehicle, you dump the charge from the stationary one into the mobile one.

          The downside, of course, is that you’ve just doubled the cost of the battery, since now you need two.

            • ludi
            • 11 years ago

            Technically, I think you would only need one standardized charging device that charges a capacitor bank at some reasonable rate (like 5A maximum draw) and then dumps the output through a power inverter into any mobile device when requested.

            Of course, therein lies another problem, since a standardized charging device implies a standardized battery pack format. We’re nowhere near that now, even though a majority of cell phones and digital media players use 3.7V packs that are simlar everywhere but at the critical dimensions and connectors.

            • just brew it!
            • 11 years ago

            Energy density of capacitors isn’t nearly as good as that of batteries. But since you’re talking about having the capacitor bank at a fixed location rather than in the vehicle, it should be workable. It’ll be a pretty big bank of capacitors though…

            • ludi
            • 11 years ago

            If it’s just for small electronics, it’s not too big a deal — when the charge dump is ready, the bank would automatically disconnect from the mains charger (which would be holding the units at close to 170VDC on a 120VAC system) and they could then dump all the way down to around 5V through the power inverter, which would be outputting 3.7V the whole time.

            For an electric car, it’s obviously more problematic although still feasible — the cap bank can take whatever time it needs to build charge practically during the day, when the car is out on the workday commute, then dump the charge when the user gets home, making the car available again for evening use.

    • ssidbroadcast
    • 11 years ago

    Seems like I keep hearing about all sorts of new battery-tech on TR, and it’s super optimistic, but I haven’t seen any of that neato stuff trickle down yet.

    Implementation lag is a b___h.

      • JustAnEngineer
      • 11 years ago

      Battery improvement is what we need most to reduce our dependence on oil. Practical electric cars would eliminate the majority of petroleum usage in the U.S.

        • BobbinThreadbare
        • 11 years ago

        Yeah, but charge time isn’t the major stumbling block, it’s potential power per mass.

          • blastdoor
          • 11 years ago

          Exactly. Another issue is getting enough lithium.

          I think electric cars might make sense, but I suspect that primary power storage medium will continue to be liquid hydrocarbons (diesel from algae, for example).

    • Lord.Blue
    • 11 years ago

    I can’t wait until we have electric cars that benefit from this.

      • Meadows
      • 11 years ago

      I can’t wait until they design stun guns with this. Imagine that, a stun gun that weighs 10 kilos and packs enough punch to make the victim’s eyeballs sizzle out, then you can recharge it in 4 seconds after a hard day of work.

      In addition, it would be a lot of help for flashlights and all such doohickeys.

        • Philldoe
        • 11 years ago

        I am Philldoe, and I approve of this message. +1

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