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New research could propel faster batteries charging

Researchers at the University of Cambridge have identified that a group of materials called niobium tungsten oxides could offer faster battery charging that could substantially accelerate the adoption of electric cars. The material could also significantly reduce charge times for batteries in electrical devices like smartphones and laptops, allowing full charge replenishment in minutes.

Current batteies’ limitations

How fast a battery can be charged depends, in part, upon the rate at which the positively charged lithium ion particles can move towards a negatively charged electrode where they are then stored as energy. The difficulty in making batteries charge more quickly is the speed at which these lithium ions migrate, usually through ceramic materials.

By changing from ceramics to niobium tungsten oxides could allow lithium ions to pass through at an exceedingly high rate, drastically reducing batteries’ charging time.

Using niobium tungsten oxides in batteries

“Niobium tungsten oxides are fundamentally different,” said Kent Griffith, first author on the study published in the journal Nature.

First discovered in 1965, niobium tungsten oxides have a rigid, open structure and larger particle sizes than many other materials commonly used in batteries. The movement of the lithium ions through is measured using a technology similar to that found in an MRI scanner. The research discovered that lithium ions moved through the material hundreds of times faster than they do through typical ceramic electrode materials.

On top of this, the material is plentiful, cheap and easy to produce. “These oxides are easy to make and don’t require additional chemicals or solvents,” said Griffith.

Clare Grey, professor of materials chemistry at the University of Cambridge and senior author on the paper, said the next step will be to optimise the use of this material in a full battery, which can be cycled for the time and length needed for electric vehicles. “For example, electric buses where you may want to charge the bus very fast at the bus stop,” she added.

Dan Brett, professor of electrochemical engineering at University College London, who was not involved in the work  said, “The discovery is very exciting in terms of what it does for battery performance. The really clever thing about the work is the insight into the mechanism and ability to measure how fast the lithium ions travel through the material.”

Brett continued, “This technique will also allow these materials to be further optimised, so we can look forward to future improvements in power, energy and lifetime.”

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