News Highlights: What is the technology behind a five minute rechargeable battery?
Building a better battery requires addressing issues in materials science, chemistry, and manufacturing. We regularly report on the work going on in the first two categories, but we get a fair number of complaints about our inability to tackle the third: figuring out how companies are managing to find scientific solutions and turn them into useful products . So it was exciting to see that one company called StoreDot who claimed that the development of a battery that would allow five minutes of charging electric vehicles was apparently willing to speak to the press.
Unfortunately, the response to our questions fell slightly short of our expectations. “Thank you for your interest”, was the reply, “we are still in pure R&D mode and are currently unable to share information or answer questions.” Apparently, the company has given The Guardian an exclusive and didn’t talk to anyone else.
Undeterred, we’ve since extracted all the information we could find from StoreDot’s site to sort out what they were doing, and we went back from there to look for research that we covered before that could be related. What follows is an attempt to paint a picture of the technology and the challenges that a company must face to take research concepts and turn them into products.
The need for speed
To some extent, StoreDot uses ideas that have been floating around in research labs and startups for years, but it takes a bit of a risk using these ideas in a different way than their apparent promise. StoreDot’s bet is that it’s not the absolute charging range of an electric vehicle that matters; it’s how quickly you can expand that reach. So while it leverages research into technologies that enable greater capacity in lithium-ion batteries, it turns around and sacrifices some of that capacity to make charging faster.
In other words, the bet is that people would rather add 300km to their car’s range in five minutes than a 600km-range car that takes an hour to fully charge.
What are the hardware-level implications of that bet? They are usually determined by heat management. Anyone who has connected an almost empty laptop on their lap knows that charging a battery produces a lot of heat. Faster charging yields even more. To deal with this heat, StoreDot essentially produces a diffuse battery with a lot of space between the individual cells, as you can see from the four minutes. from this video (embedded below). The cells have significant gaps between the cells, and the battery case has holes that allow air to flow between the cells. It charges in a stand with fans that force air through the battery to keep the heat under control.
Anyone could do that with existing battery technology, but there is a very clear cost: a much lower energy density, meaning a battery has to be much larger to hold the same amount of charge. StoreDot compensates for this by working on technology that allows for a much higher charge density, which compensates for the lower density of materials. Ultimately, the battery should be able to hold the same amounts of charge per volume as existing batteries, despite less battery material being present.
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