An environmentally safe, inexpensive battery developed at Singapore’s Nanyang Technology University (NTU) could lead to electric cars that charge 70 percent in two minutes, and it has a shelf life of more than 20 years.

Could this mean bye-bye gas station for today’s fence sitters, or is this just another hopeful battery story prompting excitement, that has hidden holdbacks?

According to NTU, while there’s room for further development, the light is green, and they’ve already licensed the nanotech battery technology to a company with time to market projected at two years as the researchers work on larger batteries for larger applications.

“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 team leader, Associate Professor Chen Xiaodong from NTU’s School of Materials Science and Engineering. “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.”

The tech is also being positioned for tablets, laptops, phones, and other devices, but the battery’s 10,000-cycle life beats a more-common 500 recharge cycles in rechargeable li-ion.

(Clockwise from top) NTU Assoc Prof Chen Xiaodong with research fellow Tang Yuxin and PhD student Deng Jiyang.

(Clockwise from top) NTU Assoc Prof Chen Xiaodong with research fellow Tang Yuxin and PhD student Deng Jiyang.

According to NTU professor Rachid Yazami, co-inventor of the lithium-graphite anode, the new battery is “the next big thing” over li-ion commercialized in 1991 by Sony, but just as li-ion has gotten better, so can this new battery.

“There is still room for improvement and one such key area is the power density – how much power can be stored in a certain amount of space – which directly relates to the fast charge ability,” said Prof Yazami. “Ideally, the charge time for batteries in electric vehicles should be less than 15 minutes, which Prof Chen’s nanostructured anode has proven to do so.” 

Unique properties include a material used in sunscreen lotions, titanium dioxide, which was used to make a gel material for the anode to replace the traditional graphite used in li-ion batteries. Found naturally in soil, titanium dioxide is abundant, cheap, and safe.

The team made the titanium dioxide useful for ther purposes by changing the usually sphere-shaped material into nanotubes. These nanotubes, thinner than a human hair speed the chemical reaction for the ultra fast recharge time.

Manufacturing the nanotube gel is described as “very easy.”

Titanium dioxide and sodium hydroxide are mixed and and stirred under “a certain temperature” so battery manufacturers will find it easy to integrate the new gel into their current production processes.

Aside from perceptible improvements touted for recharge time, manufacturing cost, and sustainability, the team also says this tech can make electrified vehicles more practical because of its extreme shelf life.

Assuming even close to competitive cost per kilowatt-hour to existing chemistries, the idea that it can last 10-times the duration stands to eliminate objections over current battery’s costly replacement.

Prof Chen and his team will be applying for a proof-of-concept grant to build a large-scale battery prototype. With the help of NTUitive, a wholly-owned subsidiary of NTU set up to support NTU start-ups, the patented technology has already attracted interest from the industry.

The underwritten project took the four scientists three years to complete.