New Batteries Developed at MIT
Researchers at MIT have developed a new approach to the design of batteries, which could provide a lightweight and inexpensive alternative to existing batteries for electric vehicles and the power grid. Some believe that this technology could even make the “refueling” of such batteries as quick and easy as pumping gas into a conventional car.
The new battery relies on an innovative architecture known as a semi-solid flow cell. Within this cell, solid particles are suspended in a carrier liquid and pumped through the system. In the design, the battery’s active components –the positive and negative electrodes, or cathodes and anodes—are composed of particles suspended in an electrolyte. The two different suspensions are pumped throughout the systems, separated by a filter, such as a thin porous membrane.
The work was carried out by Mihai Duduta ’10 and graduate student Bryan Ho, under the supervision of professors of materials science W. Craig Carter and Yet-Ming Chiang. The battery description was published in the journal Advanced Energy Materials on May 20. The publishing was co-authored by visiting research scientist Pimpa Limthongkul ’02, postdoc Vanessa Wood ’10, and graduate student Victor Brunini ’08.
Although flow batteries have existed for some time, they have used liquids with very low energy density (the amount of energy that can be stored in a given volume). Because of this, existing flow batteries take up more space than fuel cells and require rapid pumping of their fluid, reducing their efficiency.
One unique characteristic of the new design is that it separates the two functions of the battery 0storing energy until it is needed, and discharging that energy when it’s required—into separate physical structures. The new design makes it possible to reduce the size and the cost of a complete battery system to about half the current levels. This dramatic reduction could be the key to making electric vehicles fully competitive with conventional gas- or diesel-powered vehicles.
The development of the technology was partly funded by grants from the U.S. Department of Defense’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). The goal of the team’s ongoing work is to have, by the end of the grant period, “a fully-functioning, reduced scale prototype system,” says Chiang. Then, hopefully, the batteries will be ready to be engineered for production as a replacement for existing electric-car batteries.
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