Nanotube gel claimed to speed charging, extend lifespan of Li-ion batteries

Researchers at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore have developed a nanotube gel that could improve battery performance dramatically. This new twist on the lithium-ion formula is claimed to enable ultra-rapid charging that takes batteries from empty to 70% capacity in just two minutes. More importantly, perhaps, the technology is said to be capable of enduring 10,000 charging cycles—much more than typical Li-ion cells.

Associate professor Chen Xiaodong is credited with inventing the gel, which hardly sounds like exotic unobtainium. The material is made from titanium dioxide, a compound the press release describes as an "abundant, cheap and safe material found in soil." Titanium dioxide is naturally spherical, so it needs to be mixed with sodium hydroxide to form the nanotubes that enable rapid charging. Combining those ingredients seems to require little more than stirring a mixture at a specific temperature.

Once created, the nanotube gel replaces the graphite anode typically used in Li-ion batteries. In addition to fueling rapid charging, it removes the need to use "additives" to bind electrons to the anode. Getting rid of those additives apparently saves enough space to improve the cell's energy storage capacity, though there's no mention of the magnitude of that increase.

Unlike promising technologies that seem perennially stuck three-to-five years in the future, batteries loaded with nanotube gel are expected to hit the market "in the next two years." An unnamed licensee has already signed up to use the patented technology, but the researchers have yet to create a "large-scale battery prototype," so a sprinkling of salt is definitely recommended. Nanotube gel could potentially improve batteries for everything from mobile devices to notebooks to electric cars, but it could also fade into obscurity without ever making its way into actual products.

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