The benefits of using electric cars are indisputable and numerous. They help in reducing greenhouse gases as they don’t emit tailpipe pollutants. They are fast, elegant and popular. However, there are some problems that seem to be impossible to solve – and this is what makes electric cars less desirable than their internal combustion engine counterparts.
Most electric car models are quite expensive, but the thing that makes them even pricier is regular battery replacement. However, electricity is cheaper than gas and drivers who boast electric vehicles say that saving the environment is definitely worth it.
But what about safety? While electric cars are safer for drivers due to the batteries’ high impact resistance, they may not be as good for pedestrians. Their engine is silent and rarely heard by people and this often leads to accidents.
Finally, the biggest disadvantage may be the waste of time – most models need hours to charge. Also, as electric cars heavily depend on recharging stations, they instill “range fear” in drivers – an uncertainty whether the car has enough power to reach its destination.
Battery technology breakthrough
The good news is that some of the aforementioned problems may have been solved. The latest breakthrough in the world of fast-charging batteries will turn some of these electric car disadvantages into advantages. The scientists at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore have invented a special battery that can be fully recharged in just 15 minutes (or up to 70 percent in two minutes).
With minor modifications, one of these batteries’ applications will be in electric vehicles. The scientists estimated the lifespan of the battery to 20 years or more than 10,000 charging cycles – much more than all car batteries last today. This is more than a tenfold improvement over standard lithium-ion batteries.
The research team sees the new technology as extremely valuable, since owners of electric cars would save a significant amount of money (an average car battery cost over $5,000). Battery replacements would be rare and car drivers would save time and get back on the road quickly.
Introducing titanium dioxide
The new batteries are also lithium-ion ones, but they are created with the help of different technology. The team at Nanyang Technological University used a different substance for the anode instead of graphite – they have discovered a way of transforming titanium dioxide into nanotubes. Titanium dioxide is normally spherical in shape, but scientists made it into a tiny, nanometer-scale tube-like structure.
The role of titanium dioxide gel is to speed up the chemical reaction and that’s why these batteries are able to charge much faster. There is no need for additives for binding electrodes to the anode like in typical lithium-ion batteries – only titanium dioxide.
Titanium dioxide is an abundant and cheap material normally found in soil, so when it comes to the mass production of titanium dioxide nanotubes, resources won’t be a problem. This material is commonly used as a food additive or as one of the ingredients in sunscreen lotions to absorb harmful ultraviolet rays. Also, the process of manufacturing this new material is quite simple. Titanium dioxide and sodium hydroxide are mixed and stirred at a certain temperature and that is the entire process.
The science behind this discovery was explained in the article published by Advanced Materials scientific journal .
Future plans and scientists’ opinions
The titanium dioxide gel was invented by Associate Professor Chen Xiaodong and his team of researchers from NTU’s School of Materials Science and Engineering. Their plans for the near future involve creating a large-scale battery prototype, hopefully with the help of a Proof-of-Concept grant for which they will be applying. The technology has been patented and licensed for eventual production. Many industries are already attracted by this breakthrough, but they are still waiting for further improvements.
On NTU’s news page, Professor Chen gives his opinion on the new discovery: “Electric cars will be able to increase their range dramatically, with just five minutes of charging, which is on par with the time needed to pump petrol for current cars. Equally important, we can now drastically cut down the toxic waste generated by disposed batteries, since our batteries last ten times longer than the current generation of lithium-ion batteries.” He believes that new fast-charging batteries will be available on the market by 2017.
You may not know this, but the co-inventor of the lithium-graphite anode that is used in today’s batteries is Rachid Yazami, also a professor at the Nanyang Technological University. Prof Yazami won the Draper Prize (The National Academy of Engineering) last year for his work in lithium-ion battery development. Today, he is working on developing new types of batteries for electric vehicles. Although he wasn’t involved in the Prof Chen’s project, he made a comment on this battery technology breakthrough:
“While the cost of lithium-ion batteries has been significantly reduced and its performance improved since Sony commercialized it in 1991, the market is fast expanding towards new applications in electric mobility and energy storage,” said Prof Yazami.
He continues: “However, there is still room for improvement and one such key area is the power density – how much power can be stored in a certain amount of space – which directly relates to the fast charge ability. Ideally, the charge time for batteries in electric vehicles should be less than 15 minutes, which Prof Chen’s nanostructured anode has proven to do so.”
The researchers at NTU are not the only ones who are working on developing long lasting batteries. Earlier in 2014, Israeli start-up Store Dot presented their phone battery than can charge in less than 30 seconds. Also, Bar Ilan University of Israel is a leader in battery research and development. Doron Aurbach, professor at the Bar-Ilan Institute of Nanotechnology and Advanced Materials (BINA) hopes that their research will enable building better, longer lasting car batteries.
The scientific teams that we mentioned are just a few of many that are trying to make long lasting electric car batteries achievable. We would like to see even more exciting breakthroughs in battery development and research and we hope to see them soon. Electric cars are the vehicles of the future and we will all benefit from an increase in their quality.
Featured Image: © 2009 NAATBatt.org Members
 Group of Authors, “Nanotubes: Mechanical Force-Driven Growth of Elongated Bending TiO2-based Nanotubular Materials for Ultrafast Rechargeable Lithium Ion Batteries”, Advanced Materials, 2014
 Nanyang Technological University “Ultra-fast charging batteries that can be 70% recharged in just two minutes.” ScienceDaily, 13th October 2014