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Bouncing current could speed up charge
Scientists in the United States have come up with a new way to dramatically slash the time it takes to recharge a lithium battery.

Lithium batteries are used in a range of devices from computers to electric cars, but the downside has always been long recharge times.

Dr Ibrahim Abou Hamad and colleagues from Florida State University and Mississippi State University claim you can dramatically shorten recharge times by applying an oscillating electric field to a lithium battery's anode.

Their finding appears in the journal Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics.

A lithium battery anode consists of a stack of graphene sheets, bathed in an electrolyte through which lithium ions diffuse.

During charging, an electric field pushes the lithium ions into the graphene sheets, where they have to cross a barrier to become embedded and stored, a process called intercalation.
Computer simulation

Using a computer model, the team studied the movement of these ions and the forces acting on them.

They found that when the electric field pushes the lithium ions towards the graphene sheets, the intercalation process was limiting the rate at which lithium ions could cross the potential barrier into the graphene.

They could overcome this barrier by superimposing an oscillating electric field onto the charging field.

This not only helped the lithium ions over the barrier, but created an exponential relationship between the intercalation time and the oscillating field amplitude.

That meant a small increase in amplitude caused a big increase in intercalation.

The researchers believe this approach could mean faster charging times and the possibility of providing higher power densities.
Unresolved issues

But questions remain about the effect on other performance issues such as the number of these charging cycles a battery could withstand, and how long it holds its charge.

Dr Adam Best of CSIRO Energy in Newcastle says while the simulation claims are interesting and important, a real life test may produce different results.

"In simulation you can keep parameters you can't control in real life," he says. "Still what these researchers have shown is an opportunity which hasn't yet been explored.

"There have been previously published papers talking about the rapid charging of batteries, which have since been shown to be less than promising, simply due to the restrictions that are on the materials in real life".

Best says doing a real life test wouldn't be difficult, "but there remain safety issues which need to be addressed because of the energy in the batteries."

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