Typically researchers start designing batteries from scratch when are looking for the great breakthrough that will enable cars to travel as far on a battery charge as they do on a tank of gasoline.
But a team of researchers at Ontario’s University of Waterloo took something more akin to a fuel additive than a whole different technology. And it may triple the range of existing lithium-ion batteries.
The problem is that as the lithium-ion batteries used in most cars go through hundreds of cycles of charging and discharging, tiny branching treelike structures, called dendrites, start to form. Corrosion forms around the dendrites and this in turn decreases the effectiveness and lifespan of the battery.
As a solution to this problem, the UofW team came up with a sulphur/phosphorus mix that can be added to an existing battery. It stimulates the creation of a coating around the crystals and slows the forming of the dendrites, making a battery that performs better and lasts longer.
“This will mean cheap, safe, long-lasting batteries that give people much more range in their electric vehicles,” said Quanquan Pang, who led the research while he was a PhD candidate in chemistry at Waterloo. He is now a fellow at MIT. The team also included supervisor Linda Nazar, a Canada Research Chair in Solid State Energy Materials.
While it is always a long way from results in a lab to results in real life and mass production, Pang said “We wanted a simple, scalable way to protect the lithium metal.With this solution, we just add the compound and it works by itself.”
There must be something in the air at Waterloo, about a 90 minute drive from Toronto. About this same time last year another team in chemical engineering made news with a process that uses nanotechnology to significantly improve energy-storage devices known as supercapacitors and could lead to phones and laptops being charged in seconds.