MIT has been keeping us on our toes recently. First we heard about robotic farmers tending to fruit and vegetable plants, and now researchers at the venerable university have re-engineered lithium ion batteries to charge at lightning-fast speeds. Picture this: cell phones that charge in seconds, and electric cars that charge in five minutes.
Up until now, researchers assumed that there was a speed limit on the lithium ions and electrons inside li-ion batteries. But recently the MIT team engineered a "beltway" to guide ions towards an energy highway inside the lithium iron phosphate battery material. Unlike other popular battery materials like lithium cobalt, lithium iron phopshate doesn't degrade much when charged and recharged—so batteries can be smaller and lighter since less material yields the same result.
The MIT-ers' new battery can be fully charged or discharged in 10 to 20 seconds. As you can imagine, there are a host of benefits to such a quick-charging li-on battery. 10-second cell phone and laptop charges are luxuries we could all appreciate, but the real story here is with electric cars.
Batteries that discharge quickly can create a burst of energy in the cars, leading to improved highway acceleration. And while quick-charging electric car batteries aren't yet possible due to the limited amount of power available to households on the electric grid, the new li-ion batteries could one day make charging a Chevy Volt as easy as a trip to the gas station. And that's an improvement that could lead to an electric car revolution.