Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 27/5/2015 (2376 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Two of the leading objections to electric and hybrid vehicles revolve around the battery.
"It takes me how long to recharge?" and "That's great, but what are you left with when the battery dies? How much is that to replace?"
There's a bit of truth to both: the fastest charging time for a full electric, with all the right equipment, is about 20 minutes, but only to about half capacity (the mondo-expensive Tesla S with a supercharger (not the blower kind)).
And while it's true the replacement of a hybrid battery has been pegged at about $5,000 or more, it's also worth noting that Toyota, which launched the original Prius 16 years ago, reports 99% of Toyota and Lexus hybrid vehicles still on the road - even that 1999 original - still have their original batteries.
But a key development might go a long way to easing those concerns even more. Researchers at Nanyang Technology University in Singapore have developed lithium-ion batteries that charge to 70 per cent in two minutes and have a projected lifespan of 20 years.
"Electric cars will be able to increase their range dramatically, with just five minutes of charging, which is on par with the time needed to pump petrol for current cars," said associate professor Chen Xiaodong in a release.
"Equally important, we can now drastically cut down the toxic waste generated by disposed batteries, since our batteries last ten times longer than the current generation of lithium-ion batteries."
Charging time and lifespan are both determined largely by the battery's anode, or negative terminal inside the battery. Current lithium-ion batteries use graphite as the anode material.
But instead of graphite, the Singaporean researchers are using titanium dioxide nanotubes. These tiny little structures, a thousand times thinner than human hair, form the anode, or negative terminal, inside the battery. This is used as a gel that transfers electrons more efficiently than today's graphite anodes, speeding up the charging process, and doesn't deteriorate as quickly, multiplying the battery's lifespan by six to seven times.
The university has licensed the technology to a yet unnamed commercial partner and expects to see batteries using TiO2 nanotubes in two years.
In related news, titanium dioxide nanotubes may also hold the key to practical solar panels for charging cars. Currently, solar-panel technology is limited by the expense of the technology, which uses energy- and labour-intensive silicon or cadmium telluride crystals. The expense is such the economics of solar panels for home use, where they would also charge cars, is tricky.
Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory have developed solar panels that are much less expensive to produce. The key has been growing organic polymer inside the nanotubes, basically turning the tubes into thousands of tiny cannelloni. This organic goo, called an electron-donating conjugated polymer, in conjuction with the titanium dioxide, speeds up the release of electrons in the solar panel.
Today's solar panels use either crystalline silicon or cadmium telluride, which form what are called semiconductors. When a photon strikes a cell of semiconducting material, an electron is excited and leaves behind a positively charged "hole".
Like transistors, solar panels use two kinds of semiconductors, one that conducts electrons, one that conducts holes. Where the two semiconductors meet - the junction - the electron is stripped away from the hole, creating a current.
The titanium-dioxide and polymer cannellonis do the same thing, but with a gel that is much more cheaply and easily produced. More work is needed to produce solar panels that match the energy capture of silicon panels, however.
Unlike expensive semiconductors, titanium dioxide is an abundant, naturally occurring oxide found mainly in the ores ilmenite and rutile.
Copy Editor, Autos Reporter
Kelly Taylor is a Winnipeg Free Press copy editor and award-winning automotive journalist. He's been a member of the Automobile Journalists' Association of Canada since 2001.