10.6.2011 MIT develops liquid battery technology
A group of students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed a new battery design that solves many of the problems inherent in Lithium or Nickel based cells.
The new breakthrough relies on an innovative technology called a semi-solid flow cell, and is expected to be significantly cheaper to produce than existing battery technologies.
A semi-solid flow cell requires solid particles to be suspended in a carrier liquid whilst the battery's active components are composed of charged particles suspended in an electrolyte solution. Separated by a filter, these solutions are pumped through the battery system.
Essentially, the new design means that the functions of the battery, to store energy and to discharge energy when needed, are dealt with in separate structures as opposed to these functions taking place in the same structure as with a conventional battery. This improves the efficiency of the battery significantly.
Researchers at MIT believe that their new design will enable both the size and cost of battery packs to be halved. The energy density of the semi-solid flow cell is far greater than existing batteries, and the efficiency is said to be improved 10-fold.
What's more, 'refuelling' the batteries requires a process far quicker than that involved with plugging in a Lithium or Nickel battery. The exhausted liquid is simply pumped out, and a new, charged replacement is injected. Alternatively, the tanks can just be swapped over, or if time is available, the liquid can be recharge in a conventional way.
The team at MIT set out to invent an improved alternative to the rechargeable battery, but ended up potentially designing a whole new family of battery systems. They have identified the possibility of scaling up the technology at low cost, meaning that the batteries could also be useful for large scale electrical storage such as that needed at wind or solar plants.
The characteristics of the new design cells could be the key to making electric vehicles more comparable to conventional vehicles, in terms of range and refuelling. An operational prototype is expected to be completed within the next two years.
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