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University of Utah researchers believe they can significantly improve batteries

(Professor Tao Gao, courtesy the University of Utah)

SALT LAKE CITY – The batteries in your devices and in electronic cars could get a big upgrade, thanks to researchers at the University of Utah. They say they’ve discovered why batteries age quickly or can’t handle a rapid charge. 

The goal of University of Utah Chemical Engineering Professor Tao Gao is to give a Tesla car battery an 80% charge in just ten minutes.

Gao said, “In order to achieve that, the first step is to understand why we cannot charge so fast.”

He said his team has figured that part out. Gao compared the charging of a lithium-ion battery to a game of ping pong. Just like the ball goes back and forth between the players, the lithium particles go back and forth between the positive and negative electrodes when a battery charges. 

“If the ball travels too fast, the player can’t catch the ball,” Gao said.

A similar process happens with the battery. If the particles bounce back and forth between the electrodes too quickly, the graphite components can’t handle the stress.  They call this phenomenon “lithium plating,” which Gao said can significantly limit the battery’s life.

“This is a phenomenon that can cause your battery to age really fast and even cause some safety hazards, like smoke, fore or even an explosion,” he says.

Now that they’ve determined why the batteries can’t charge faster, Gao said they can take two different paths to fix the problem. He said they can either create batteries with different elements that can handle a faster charge, or they can make the chargers more efficient.

“Now I’m working on both strategies to improve a battery’s charging performance,” he said.

Gao’s research was published in the scientific journal Joule.