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By: Jason Giacchino

January 2011 - Off The Pegs

Big Gains in Battery Technology

Lithium battery size comparison
Lithium battery size comparison

XS Power Lithium Powerpach
XS Power Lithium Powerpach

Nanoscoops
Nanoscoops

What do nanotechnology, a cell phone, and your ATV all have in common? No, this isn’t one of those tricky brainteasers designed to frustrate or a riddle with no real answer. The common thread in this case is batteries. Your ATV likely has one, your cell phone certainly does, and nanotechnology (manipulating matter on an atomic and molecular scale) is going to revolutionize the way these things work.

An entirely new type of nanomaterial developed at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute could enable the next generation of high-power rechargeable lithium (Li)-ion batteries that would begin appearing in laptop computers, mobile phones, and other electronics before making their way into electrically-powered automobiles and eventually into the cells responsible for firing up our internal combustion cars and quads.

This research team, led by Professor Nikhil Koratkar, demonstrated that their nanoscoop electrode (named for the fact that it sort of looks like a sugar-cone with a scoop of ice cream on top) is capable of thriving in the exact conditions that cause current batteries to fail: extremely high rates of charge and discharge.

In fact, this new nanoscoop could be charged and discharged at a rate 40 to 60 times faster than conventional battery anodes, while maintaining comparable energy density. What this could mean in the realm of electronics is much quicker charge times. A laptop that presently takes over an hour to recharge could theoretically go from dead to a full charge in a couple of minutes. Sure, the benefits of gadgets spending less time plugged into the wall makes sense to nearly everyone; the question on most ATV riders’ minds is what would be the benefits to us?

To answer that, consider the reality that batteries for all-electric vehicles must deliver high power and high energy densities to function properly. Today, the only way we can achieve these demands is through use of supercapacitors linked to conventional batteries to make this happen. The invention of nanoscoops may make obsolete the need for capacitors in the process by putting out the proper densities right from the source.

So, the question then becomes--if lithium ion batteries have it all over the primitive acid-tanks we’re currently running in our quads and cars, why haven’t we made the switch? The answer is cost. The lithium ion battery pack currently found in electric cars and hybrids is likely manufactured overseas, in fact, then imported to the US.

While the technology to make these batteries has been available for more than 20 years, no factory in the states currently produces them thanks to low profitability that simply discourages manufacturing. Factories in countries like Japan, Korea, and China have answered the call.

The trouble is with current manufacturing processes and a majority of the world’s supply of lithium being located in South America, a lithium ion rechargeable ATV battery typically costs double that of the current lead-acid battery MSRP.

Even still, many insist the writing is on the wall for alkaline, nickel-cadmium, and lead acid batteries. The lithium ion concept is simply too attractive to overlook, a concept that will likely become even more irresistible when nontechnology like the nanoscoop begins making its benefits known.

Still wondering how this would benefit you and your ATV? Well, considering that even present lithium ion rechargeables are often 33% lighter than a comparable acid-battery, imagine if the battery in your quad was no larger than a tape measure, weighing less than 2 pounds, and could go from dead-as-a-doornail to a full charge in a matter of minutes. Oh, and did I mention this battery’s expected life cycle would go from 4-5 years to 12-15?

Also, for those of us forced to store our machines for long off-seasons, a lithium battery will maintain 95+ percent of its charge even after five years of storage at room temperature! Goodbye, trickle charger.

Sounds pretty good, right? The technology is sound and researchers are making strides on a near-daily basis. All that remains is manufacturing techniques that can make this technology affordable for the masses. A company called E-batt had gained brief notoriety for having done just that (making an affordable lithium ion battery for ATVs and motorcycles) but a recent search reveals the company apparently went under. We’re optimistic that they were merely the first of many. In fact, I discovered these sites searching around just now:

http://www.turntechbattery.com
http://4xspower.com/tag/lithium-battery/

I don’t know about you, but I won’t miss much about the lead acid scene!


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