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Utah researchers take the first step towards charging batteries faster

The goal is to charge smartphones and cars to 80% in 10 minutes
Posted at 10:22 AM, Mar 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-28 12:22:38-04

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — Batteries have come a long way over the years, but there are still improvements that can be made, especially when it comes to how long it takes to charge them.

Dr. Tao Gao, an Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering at the University of Utah, wrote a research paper opening the door to creating a battery that can be recharged quicker than existing ones.

"My research is the first step towards that goal because in order to achieve that goal we need to understand the physical limitations of that," said Gao.

How quickly a lithium-ion battery can recharge is impacted by something known as “lithium plating.”

This is a side reaction that happens when lithium-ions are put into graphite particles too fast.

Gao compares the operation of a lithium-ion battery to a ping pong ball being batted back and forth on a table.

The ball, or lithium-ion, travels from the positive electrode to the negative electrode during the charging process.

The charging rate is similar to how fast the ball travels.

Lithium plating happens when the lithium-ion moves too fast and the graphite particles in the battery fail to catch it.

Limitations of charging lithium-ion batteries faster include the increased danger of catching fire or exploding and limiting how long they last in the long run.

The ultimate goal of this research is to provide a way for batteries to charge faster whether that's in smartphones, laptops, and electric vehicles (EVs) like Teslas, so you can spend less time waiting to charge and more time on the go.

Right now it takes about 40 minutes to charge a Tesla Model 3 to 80% battery from close to empty.

While that may seem fast enough already, Dr. Gao said he wants it to be closer to the time it takes to fill up at the gas pump.

"We are aiming to basically reduce the battery’s charging time to within 10 minutes," said Gao.

In order to achieve this goal, Dr. Gao said it comes down to using better battery materials and better battery management.

This basically means changing how the battery charges to make it last longer.

"With an optimized charging method, we should be able to reduce the charging time while not affecting the battery’s durability or safety," said Gao.

The Utah professor thinks smartphone batteries could charge five times faster within the next 3 to 5 years.

As for EV batteries, that could take between 5 and 10 years because EVs like Teslas have about 7,000 battery cells, meaning the process of making them is more difficult when compared to the single batteries in smartphones and tablets.

Dr. Gao’s research can be found in full in the scientific journal Joule.