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Charge an Electric Car Battery in 15 Minutes? Research May Power a Way

One of the biggest stumbling blocks to greater use of renewable energy, from regulating the grid to powering cars on solar electricity, is in the limitations of storage batteries. Though we’ve been storing electrical power as chemical energy since the first lead-acid battery was built in 1859, batteries are still too bulky, too expensive, and too slow to charge to do all the things we’d like them to do in the coming age of renewables.

But recent research at UC San Diego may result in lithium-ion batteries that are cheaper and faster-charging, all through adjusting the mathematical models we use to understand how batteries work.

Lithium-ion batteries are so-called because they store charge in the form of lithium ions, charged particles, which move from the battery’s negative terminal — its anode — to its positive terminal when the battery is in use. When a lithium-ion battery is hooked up to a battery charger, the outside electrical power pushes those lithium ions back toward the anode, where the ions — which are quite small even compared to other atoms — lodge in “pores” in the anode’s molecular structure, where they wait until the battery is connected to a closed electrical circuit.

Conventional battery chargers and regulators rely on voltage and current to measure how well a battery is charging or discharging, but that doesn’t allow for inefficiencies in the lithium ion’s movement inside the battery. In order to know how well the battery’s functioning, you really need to know where the ions are distributed in the anode, which isn’t easy.


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