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Atom-thin water layers may lead to faster electric cars

Batteries with water 'tuning' could transfer energy very quickly.
Jon Fingas, @jonfingas
April 30, 2017
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Copyright 2016 Sebastian Blanco / AOL

So many battery breakthroughs focus on longer battery life (and for good reason), but what about the speed of delivering that energy? That's what North Carolina State University researchers want to solve. They've produced a material, crystalline tungsten oxide hydrate, that uses atom-thin water layers to tune electrical charge transfers for speed. When the team uses this material in a pseudocapacitor (which stores energy by transferring charges between electrodes and electrolytes), the result is a battery that theoretically represents the best of two worlds. It has the high energy density you'd expect, but it's also very quick at shuttling ions back and forth. That, in turn, could lead to performance breakthroughs in devices where rapid power is at least as important as raw capacity.

The water layers also help store energy more efficiently, with less waste heat.

NCSU envisions this leading to faster acceleration in electric cars -- imagine electric sedans that could smoke even the fastest conventional supercars, at least in short stints. You could also see higher-performance storage in renewable energy power grids (important for both storing energy and coping with high demand), and thinner batteries in just about any kind of gadgetry.

The tech isn't flawless at this stage. In longer charging periods of about 10 minutes, a regular tungsten oxide actually stored more energy. There's some work to do to avoid compromises, to put it another way. Even so, the technology might be showing up at the right time. EV ranges are becoming good enough that car makers can start devoting more effort to off-the-line acceleration, so you may see more zero-emissions cars that are just as exciting to drive as they are eco-friendly.

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