Where was I… oh, attempts to dramatically speed battery charging. Our best shot may not be due to better external chargers, but better cell chemistries.
-A Korean research group has formed batteries with a micro-mesh inside. At the country’s Ulsan national laboratory, a blend containing carbon then forms a cell with a network of graphite conductors throughout. The conductor grid allows charge to enter and permeate the cell at dramatically higher speeds.
If the lab results make it to the consumer, batteries might charge over 2 orders of magnitude faster than today. Overnight charging would then fall to 5 minutes or so… if you have humongous voltages and currents available to take full advantage. More likely, engineers and buyers would settle for home charge times of 20-60 minutes, and instead use voltages and currents only modestly higher than what we plug today. Only roadside charging would exploit brutal amperage at many hundreds of volts.
But let’s suppose even that’s a stretch. Let’s say the lab results are optimistic, and actual products will only improve by a factor of 5. An overnight charge still falls to 90 min, not even overnight anymore. You could come home from work, fill up during a meal and a shower, and still go out on the town with a full battery. Or you could run errands all Saturday, come home for a real lunch or dinner, then keep right on running (regardless of what public charging is or is not installed).
-A team at Rice University has placed the lithium in a matrix of crushed silicon instead of carbon/graphite. Crushed silicon forms tiny, rough particles. Lithium ions could only penetrate so far into solid silicon without destroying it; crushing forms “sponges” for lithium, and it’s cheap, too. You might make these sponges from the waste from computer chips or solar cells.
The net effect is cheap, dense lithium cells. Batteries would go much farther than today, without much more size, weight, or cost. The best part? I don’t see this as incompatible with higher conductivities and faster charging, at least, not as a first-order effect.
-In addition, batteries may be charged faster by rebuilding… nothing at all, except software builds. A research group at the University of California-San Diego has devised new charging algorithms, that more closely model what’s going on inside a given cell. With a better handle on charging, you can pour on the juice without damage. One possible claim is 15-minute charges, though it’s not clear what their conditions for this are. Also, a better handle on charging means faster discharging too (i.e., more power) or smaller battery packs (lower purchase cost) with less damage (lower lifetime costs). In other words, a win-win-win situation.
Overall, it appears that one way or another, charge times will fall to some fraction of today’s. It’s just a matter of what fraction, and in what way. Lots of things besides EVs use batteries- laptops and phones, portable drills and other tools, and plenty of infantry gear. Thus, researchers are making the future happen whether you support “those damned cars” or not. ‘Lots of things’ also includes motorcycles, military vehicles, and helicopters…