Electric Cars Get a Boost in Charging Tech
YOUNG MONEY Staff
8 June 2011
Edmunds.com looked at two of the biggest-name plug-in cars this year, the pure-electric Nissan Leaf and the hybrid-plug-in Chevrolet Volt. Obviously the Volt can go as far as necessary on its conventional engine, but its electric range reaches only between 30 and 40 miles. Relying exclusively on its electric engine, the Leaf clearly far outstrips the Volt, but still limits drivers to roughly 100 miles before requiring a recharge. Perfect for day-to-day driving, but not as good for the occasional road trip.
Limited range in itself is a problem, but Edmunds points out that most conventional cars also need a refill after around 300 miles. The biggest issue for electric cars is the combination of short range, as well as the requirement of frequent recharges, and extremely long recharge times. The Leaf needs between 4 and 8 hours with a special recharging setup, while the Volt can take as little as 4 hours with a 240-volt power supply or as much as 10 hours with only 120 volts.
The Leaf can be charged in as little as 30 minutes with a special quick-charge station, but these are still few and far between. In either case, these cars can easily become impractical if you live in an apartment and cannot install your own charging station.
Enter MIT professors Yet-Ming Chiang and Craig Carter. Along with some of their students, these two researchers developed a new approach to an old technology known as semi-solid flow batteries. Flow batteries are a relatively old concept that suspends charged particles in a compound that resembles slime, but the low energy density of these semi-solids requires the use of huge storage containers that generally make more sense for industrial purposes.
The MIT group was able to improve the energy density 10 fold, allowing for flow batteries small enough to use in automobiles and actually smaller than existing lithium-ion electric car batteries. The biggest advantage to these new batteries, however, is that pumping stations could remove depleted material and replace it with a fresh charge in the same time and similar fashion to present-day gas pumps.
Compare that to the concept Wired reported on a couple years ago of battery exchange stations.
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