MIT team creates revolutionary new quick-charge battery chemistry

By Editors on June 10, 2011 1:15 PM

A research team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has announced a new take on rechargeable battery chemistry that it says has the potential to virtually revolutionize the electric car field. Details of this new "semi-solid flow cell," which synergistically integrates the fundamental structure of an aqueous-flow battery with modern lithium-ion chemistry to permit exceptionally quick recharging along with numerous other tangible benefits, were outlined in a paper that appeared in the scientific journal, Advanced Energy Materials.

The genius of the MIT semi-solid flow cell lies in the unique configuration of its internal architecture, which replaces the conventional anode and cathode elements with a special liquid electrolyte. Likened to quicksand, this viscous carrier suspends their respective positive and negative particles in solution form, each contained in its own area separated by a porous membrane. According to the MIT research group, which was headed by two professors of material science, W. Craig Carter and Yet-Ming Chiang, the innovative semi-solid flow cell design offers a number of game-changing advantages. For openers, it provides for a lightweight and compact package -- barely half the size of a conventional alternative -- and can be produced at a significantly lower pricepoint than a comparable lithium-ion pack. Equally critical, the design boasts a tenfold edge in power density compared to any existing liquid-flow battery. However, the most significant plus could well be in its dramatically reduced recharging/replenishment time. Due to the battery's unique internal configuration -- which incorporates discrete areas for storing and discharging energy from the system -- it would be possible to remove the depleted "fluids" and pump in fully-charged replacements almost as quickly as you can refill the fuel tank of a conventional passenger vehicle.

According to Chiang, this new iteration of semi-solid flow cell technology can be used with any number of other suitable chemistries and is fully scalable, which also makes it a strong candidate for other types of non-automotive applications. Although still several years away from being ready to roll on a commercial level, it's appears to be one of the most promising developments to date in the advanced battery technology arena.