University claims to have revolutionized electric vehicle recharging

Researchers claim they've made a breakthrough in battery technology. Photo: Penn State

Electric vehicles face three great challenges: battery range, battery recharge time, and expense. In the past few years, there has been some improvement on the first problem, and now researchers at Penn State University say they’ve come up with a solution for the second.

Chao-Yang Wang, a professor at Penn State, says the university has come up with a new design that allows for extremely quick recharging of high-capacity lithium-ion batteries.

The design overcomes the problem that lithium-ion batteries have with recharging temperatures: recharge them at too low a temperature, and the lithium inside the battery can deposit on the carbon anodes in spike-like shapes, reducing efficiency and even potentially causing a short-circuit. Recharging the battery at a higher temperature overcomes this problem, but instead results in the battery deteriorating due to the heat.

The Penn State researchers solved the problem by designing the battery to reach high temperatures (70 Celsius) for only a short time during charging, then using the vehicle’s built-in cooling system to bring temperatures back down.

According to the Penn State release on the project, “The self-heating battery uses a thin nickel foil with one end attached to the negative terminal and the other extending outside the cell to create a third terminal. A temperature sensor attached to a switch causes electrons to flow through the nickel foil to complete the circuit. This rapidly heats up the nickel foil through resistance heating and warms the inside of the battery.

The researchers claim their design can recharge a battery with 200-300 miles range in 10 minutes. Presumably, that’s with a Class III charger, although the press release doesn’t say (it does make mention of a new EV charging network being built, though). And now, we get into the next question: is this good news for fans of electric motorcycles?

It’s hard to say at this point, due to the possible size restrictions of the system. Remember, it’s much easier for an auto manufacturer to build a car with 200-300 mile range because it’s not as concerned with the physical size of the battery. Same goes for Penn State’s new self-heating design. But when it comes to electric motorcycles, size matters, and if the designers are unable to put together a lithium-ion battery that’s compact enough for this kind of range, the improvements may not benefit riders who want practical EVs—at least not yet. Remember, the battery would also require a cooling system built-in as well, and that all adds weight to the motorcycle.

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