One of the most difficult issues keeping electric cars from taking off is the fact that electric cars just don’t have the energy capacity of conventional fossil fuel cars. The limited range of electric cars and long recharge times means only a specialized group of people can utilize fully electric cars, while the rest of us still need fossil fuel-burning cars. This issue has temporarily been mediated by employing electric hybrid cars, but the issue of using fossil fuel cars still exists.
Paul Braun and scientists at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, have created a new method of building batteries that will have the energy capacity of a battery, but the discharge and recharge rates of a capacitor. Current capacitors have the ability to recharge and discharge rapidly, but cannot hold very much energy, while batteries can hold a lot of energy, but cannot be recharged very quickly. Braun’s new batteries have the energy storage of a battery with the recharge rates of a capacitor.
Typical batteries are made up of two electrodes, a cathode and an anode, and a liquid electrolyte connecting the two electrodes. The difference with Braun’s new battery compared to currently produced batteries is the creation of a three-dimensional scaffolding, similar to a sponge, that increases the surface area for ions to attach, but maintains close proximity between anode and cathode so the ions do not need to travel far during discharge and recharge. Creating this framework is accomplished by packing tiny polystyrene spheres together and filling in the gaps between the spheres with nickel. After that, the polystyrene spheres are melted away, leaving a framework of nickel which can then be coated with active material to create a cathode. Electrolyte fluid then fills in the gaps inside the nickel scaffolding and active material. The end result is high surface area for ions to attach, but short distance between cathode and anode, thus allowing rapid movement of ions between the two electrodes. This quick movement of ions between the electrodes is what brings fast discharge and recharge. If applied to electric cars, recharge times that once took an entire night can be reduced to a few minutes, similar to the amount of time it takes people to fill up their gas tank.
In order to use these new batteries, however, new techniques of delivering such high amperage without damaging electrical systems must be figured out. Beefing up electrical systems to deal with the high amperage may be easier with small devices like phones, but more difficult with larger devices, like cars. But if systems that can safely handle the amperage needed to recharge at such fast rates can be created, there are few reasons left to why electric cars don’t prove conventional fossil fuel cars obsolete.