by Al Sacco

Charge Your BlackBerry in Seconds: MIT Boffins Build Rapid Charge Li-ion Battery

Mar 12, 20093 mins
MobileSmall and Medium Business

In what may turn out to be a significant development in the world of portable electronics—and possibly the U.S. auto industry—a group of MIT engineers has come up with a new “recipe” for building lithium-ion (li-ion) batteries that could lead to smaller, lighter and more efficient power packs. Such re-engineered li-ion batteries could be fully charged in a just a few seconds instead of hours, according to MIT, and they could become commercially available in just a few years.

image of modified Li-ion Battery Material
New Li-ion Battery Material (Photo by Donna Coveney)

Li-ion batteries power all sorts of gadgets, including smartphones like BlackBerry devices and laptop computers–they’re even used in electronic cars.

MIT professor Gerbrand Ceder and a graduate student, Byoungwoo Kang, devised the new battery processing technique, which enabled them to successfully build a tiny li-ion battery that can be fully charged in 10 to 20 seconds. It typically takes six minutes to charge a similarly sized li-ion battery without the newly reengineered materials, according to MIT. The two published their findings in today’s issue of scientific journal, Nature.

“The ability to charge and discharge batteries in a matter of seconds rather than hours may open up new technological applications and induce lifestyle changes,” Ceder states in the Nature paper.

Existing li-ion batteries are typically quite good at storing large amounts of power, but they’re also relatively inefficient when it comes to filling up and discharging power.

To make the complex process as digestible as possible, Gerbrand and Ceder came up with a new way to make the lithium-ions, and electrons, that carry charges across the surface of a batteries move much more swiftly throughout the battery material than was previously thought possible. That tweak enables the battery to both fill to capacity and deliver a charge much faster.

image of MIT's Gerbrand Ceder
Gerbrand Ceder (Photo by Donna Coveney)

And since the pair only modified materials that are already used in battery production, as oppose to employing new, hard-to-find or expensive ingredients, Ceder says the new batteries could be publicly available in as little at two years.

While exciting, Ceder’s work is really only in its beginning stages, and should be treated as a possibility, albeit an exciting one, and not a reality. For example, a handful of Stanford researchers announced in the winter of 2007 that they’d discovered a new way to build li-ion batteries that could extend average laptop battery life tenfold. But I haven’t heard anything about the engineers or their discovery in more than a year. And I certainly haven’t seen or heard of any new uber laptop batteries on the market.

For now, let’s just hope that Ceder’s discovery pans out. My BlackBerry Bold and its less-than-a-full-work-day’s worth of battery-life sure would be much more manageable if I could re-up its power supply in just a few minutes.

You can find more technical details on Ceder’s work on MIT’s website.