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MIT develops a new battery that gives EV tech a jolt

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Mass. have developed a lightweight and inexpensive alternative to existing electric vehicle (EV) batteries that could potentially make refuelling as quick and easy as filling up with gasoline.


June 30, 2011
Kathy Smith

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Mass. have developed a lightweight and inexpensive alternative to existing electric vehicle (EV) batteries that could potentially make refuelling as quick and easy as filling up with gasoline.

Lab version of the new mit flow battery. Photo: Dominick Reuter

The new battery relies on a semi-solid flow cell architecture that involves positive and negative electrodes (cathodes and anodes) composed of solid particles suspended in a liquid electrolyte carrier and pumped through systems separated by a filter.

In a conventional battery, storing and discharging energy takes place in the same structure. The MIT battery separates these functions making the discharge of energy more efficient, while reducing the size and cost of a complete battery system, including all of its structural support and connectors, by half. Researchers say such a reduction would be key to making electric vehicles fully competitive with conventional gas- or diesel-powered vehicles.

Refuelling would conceivably be as simple as pumping out the depleted slurry and adding a fresh replacement, or by swapping out the tanks, while also having the option of recharging the existing material when time permits.

The battery system could also be scaled up to very large sizes at low cost for large-scale electricity storage, potentially making intermittent, unpredictable sources such as wind and solar energy practical for powering the grid.