Safer Battery Being Developed for Electric Cars

Researchers in the University of Leichester are developing a battery for electric vehicles that is lighter and more environment-friendly, with a potential of replacing lithium-ion, today’s E.V. battery of choice. The researchers are working with a rechargeable battery for electric vehicles that is zinc-based. "This research involves the development of a new class of fast rechargeable batteries based on a zinc-plastic system incorporating a novel, inexpensive, environmentally sustainable solvent," said Claire Fullarton, a postgraduate researcher with the department of chemistry who tackles the design, production, and properties of the new battery.

The project combines a new low-cost, air- and moisture-insensitive and environmentally sustainable class of electrolytes, together with nanostructured zinc deposits and novel ultra-fast charging conducting polymers. The end result is a battery for E.V.’s that is light-weight and environmentally sustainable, effective and safe. Commonly used lead-acid, nickel-metal hydride or lithium-ion rechargeable batteries in electric vehicles have technological, cost and environmental limitations, in addition to short circuiting issues, the researchers said. "The problem with many electric cars is that the battery technology is often quite heavy and needs frequent recharging," said Dr. Karl S. Ryder, who oversees the project. "Newer technologies such as lithium-ion are very good but are quite expensive and surrounded by serious safety concerns – they are prone to burn fiercely on impact."

To realize the improvements, the researchers aim to make the charge-discharge efficiency of the zinc-plastic battery greater than 90 percent with a cycle ability of 1,000 cycles. They will also try to optimize ionic liquid electrolytes to eliminate hydrogen gas, the main cause of lithium-ion batteries’ burning. In addition, they will attempt to develop ultra-fast pulse charging to eliminate zinc from morphing during the charging cycle, thereby avoiding dendritic growth – metal growth known to cause short circuits.

The research project received 3.5 million euros ($5 million) in funding under the European Union Seventh Framework Program. Analysts predict the rapid growth of the global market for E.V. and hybrid E.V.’s, expected to top $2 billion by 2015. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology was earlier reported developing black goo for a semi-solid flow battery that they claim is lightweight and cheaper than existing batteries. The company PowerGenix had also started producing prototypes of nickel-zinc batteries that have better charge acceptance and a longer lifespan.