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The charge for quicker and cheaper batteries

When consumers look for EVs, charging times are a major pain point. It’s understandable – why invest in cleaner ways of getting around, if it holds you back, having to power up?

EV manufacturers have differing ways of approaching the charging up conundrum – the likes of Tesla have written at great length about the use of lithium-ion batteries, and consumers often report their latest models take anywhere between six to 12 hours to charge fully.

Nio offers a different approach, with models designed to have replaceable batteries. Rather than constantly having to stop off and charge up, Nio customers use EVs which are arguably future-proof, as the cars would be compatible with any kind of battery, as the technology advances greatly.

The idea of improving charging times for car batteries poses an obvious question – how do you quicken charging, without making batteries lumbersome for motorists? A company called StoreDot might be using smarter materials to improve charge density, keeping batteries the right size while cutting charging times down to just five minutes.

Now, Russian scientists have now reportedly made great strides in developing a new type of cathode which could charge up in just a few seconds.

An electrifying discovery

According to an article published in the journal Energy Technology, Russian researchers from the Skoltech, D. Mendeleev University, and the Institute of Problems of Chemical Physics of RAS have broken new ground. They’ve developed cathodes derived from polymers, which could be used for new dual-ion batteries, allowing them to charge much quicker than conventional ones.

Cathodes are (usually metallic) electrodes which carry a negative charge, through which electricity flows out, within a polarised electronic device.

The article suggests a major shift away from the use of lithium, a soft alkali metal which is highly reactive, in favour of more sustainable alternatives. The Russian researchers used polymers called PDPAPZ and PPTZPZ to produce cathodes, and realised that these new cathodes could withstand 25,000 operating cycles before wearing out.

Not only that, but these polymer-based cathodes were able to significantly outperform lithium-ion batteries, as they took mere seconds to charge. Imagine that – you’re running low on energy, and a few seconds later, your EV is all juiced up and ready to again.

The need for speed

Faster charging speeds for such batteries could be a game-changer. Rather than having to find something to occupy our time, while our EVs charge for half a day, we could find ourselves being able to get from A to B much quicker. Admittedly, it’s one thing to report on developments within a laboratory, and a completely different thing to see the technology mass-produced and rolled out for the millions of EVs.

If we have a ubiquitous fast-charging infrastructure on the roadside, drivers need no longer to worry about the cruise range. After driving 200-300 miles per charge, one can pick up another 200-300 miles by charging for 10 minutes

– Dr Chao-Yang Wang, professor at the Pennsylvania State University, Speaking with the Guardian

A more realistic expectation is for charging speeds to shrink more gradually. How can we say this with confidence? The likes of Telsa themselves admit that the technology and infrastructure could soon be in place, allowing for its customers to charge up their cars for just 10 minutes, in order to make 200-mile journeys.

However, such innovations could take two to three years’ worth of testing to make sure the technology is ready, before we can expect rapid charging to become a mainstream feature in the EV sector. One thing is for sure – even if we have to wait a little bit for faster-charging EVs, it’s a far cry from using a finite resource which could damage the environment, each time we take to the roads.

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