Researchers from UCLA and Illinois taking different approaches to tackle the “super capacitor” problem.

There are two problems currently facing electric car adoption by the masses. The first one – range anxiety – is due to batteries lacking the capacity to store enough energy in a small space. Which leads us to the second issue – charge time – as these bigger batteries, due to their chemical makeup, don’t easily take on a lot of energy in a short amount of time. EV batteries discharge (send power to the electric motors) quite slowly as well.

While many automakers see electrification as the future, they do concede battery-based motion as not acceptable for every consumer or every task. Lithium-ion based batteries are a bit more energy dense than most of their counterparts. Yet, with failures being seen by Boeing and Mitsubishi – the energy storage devices causing fires – it’s not hard to see there are still significant flaws in lithium-ion construction. And that’s before you start to recognize the geo-political games at play behind the lithium mining industry and trade (for instance, Bolivia is the second-largest producer of lithium in the world and the third largest cultivator of coca).

There are researchers out there trying to change the nature of batteries; and, hopefully along the way, change the nature of how OEMs source their energy storage materials.

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign are looking at very small solutions for exponentially large results. Microbatteries – a term they coined for the tech they’ve developed, may have the ability to charge a phone in a second and use that phone to boost a car. Their results have been published in the April 16 issue of Nature Communications.

Speaking with Science Daily, research lead William P. King explained, “This is a whole new way to think about batteries. A battery can deliver far more power than anybody ever thought. In recent decades, electronics have gotten small. The thinking parts of computers have gotten small. And the battery has lagged far behind. This is a microtechnology that could change all of that. Now the power source is as high-performance as the rest of it.”

This is brand new technology, too; the new batteries are not a refinement of an older technology, but a complete breakthrough in how batteries can be constructed.

[Ed. note: I won’t pretend to be an expert on battery technology, so me rehashing the specifics would be counter-productive. Science Daily gives good insight into the tech, though…at least I think they do.]

Yet, the complexity of this kind of battery remains very high, with any sort of mass production many years in the distance. A research team at UCLA has another approach which may be more immediate.

Graphene. This isn’t new; it’s a pure carbon concoction of graphite oxide arranged in a one-atom thick sheet that garnered a Nobel prize back in 2010. Properties of the material are quite interesting (you can watch the video above). Yet, production of graphene has been quite labour intensive.

Researchers Richard Kaner and Maher El-Kady aim to change that with a very innovative, yet incredibly simple, process to produce graphene. Utilizing a run-of-the-mill DVD drive on a computer, the pair were able to put a water-graphene solution on a disc and “cure” it with the laser found in the drive. The resulting sheet of graphene was charged just for a few seconds and then ran a small LED bulb for about five minutes.

[More on this new graphene technology can be found here.]

There are some truly remarkable strides being made in the area of battery tech. We just need it to arrive in cars as soon as possible.

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