NU researchers improve battery technology

    A team of Northwestern researchers, led by McCormick professor Harold Kung, has improved existing lithium-ion battery technology — the kind of battery used in phones, cars and computers — to store 10 times the charge stored by existing technology while charging 10 times as fast. The improvements could appear in cell phones and laptops within three years.

    The improvements, which involve making microscopic holes in a battery's energy-storing graphene sheet to give electrons "short-cuts" through the material, are detailed in a Northwestern News press release published this week.

    Kung detailed why the path from university laboratory to store shelf is long — especially for batteries.

    “The testing of batteries takes a long time,” Kung said. “It’s not something you use for only one month, so you have to test it for a year or two.”

    Because of that testing, the technology will likely appear in small devices, like cell phones and power tools, at first.

    “If that works,” Kung said, “then you can go to larger and larger scales, like automobiles and marine ships and even buildings.” Those broader applications require a longer, more dependable battery and thus more testing. “If you’re talking about electric cars or hybrids, you have to guarantee the battery for five years, and you have to test for three years to show it will last for five years.”

    Right now, none of that testing has even started. "I’m assuming there will be interest from companies," said Kung. “What’s happening now is the university is applying for intellectual property protection, for patents, and companies will license the patents.”

    Kung's team has been researching rechargable batteries for about five years. This is their latest paper on the technology; Kung predicts that future research from his team will focus on improving battery safety and increasing the density of energy stored in rechargable batteries. 

    “Improving the performance," he said, "is always the main goal of battery research.”


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