MIT breakthrough promises lighter, fast-charging batteries

MIT scientists have developed a surface material that could lead to smaller, faster-charging batteries.

Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed a way to charge lithium ion batteries in seconds, instead of hours, that could open the door to smaller, faster-charging batteries for cell phones and other devices.

Lithium ion batteries are used widely in portable electronics because they can store large amounts of energy. The tradeoff is that the batteries can take hours to recharge, which can be an inconvenience for users who are constantly on the move. A team of MIT scientists, led by Professor Gerbrand Cedar, discovered that lithium ions, which carry electricity in the battery, can move much faster if they are aligned with tunnels that can be accessed from the surface of the battery, according to an MIT statement.

The breakthrough by Cedar and graduate student Byoungwoo Kang is the development of a reengineered surface material for batteries that allows lithium ions to move quickly across the surface of the battery and channels the ions into tunnels. A prototype battery built using this surface material can be charged in 20 seconds or less, compared to 6 minutes for a battery cell that does not use the material, MIT said.

The surface material is not new but is manufactured in a different way. This means batteries that use the faster-charging surface material could be on the market within two to three years, the statement said.

Besides electronic devices, the new material could allow faster-charging electric cars, although the charging speed would be limited by the amount of power that can be accessed over a home's connection with the power grid, MIT said.

The discovery will be outlined in a paper published in the March 12 issue of scientific journal Nature.

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