Smartphone and electric vehicle batteries may someday soon charge to 70 percent in just five minutes and last for 20 years, a landmark in energy cell technology that Nanyang Technological University researchers are pushing into fruition with a new gel-like substance.

The "ultrafast charging" batteries forgo the graphene and graphite used in lithium-ion cells in favor of a gel-like substance created from titanium dioxide.

Tesla Motors has been rumored to be attempting to develop a graphene battery that would double the range of its electric vehicles and draw the masses away from gasoline-powered automobiles. But with the work of researchers Chen Xiaodong, a NTU professor, and Tang Yuxin, a Ph.D. student at the university, electric vehicle refueling times will mirror those at the pumps and the cost of maintaining the automobiles will plummet.

"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 Chen. "Equally important, we can now drastically cut down the toxic waste generated by disposed batteries, since our batteries last 10 times longer than the current generation of lithium-ion batteries."

The Nanyang research team has developed a method to convert the naturally spherical titanium dioxide into nanotubes, which amplify the chemical reactions inside of the battery to regenerate at lightning speeds. On top of the speed of the battery, its key ingredient, titanium dioxide, is said to be abundant and environmentally safe.

Nanyang professor Rachid Yazami, co-inventor of the lithium-graphite anode that is used in lithium-ion batteries, isn't affiliated with the titanium diox cells, but said he realizes the industry is calling for something more powerful than the battery tech he pioneered.

"While the cost of lithium-ion batteries has been significantly reduced and its performance improved since Sony commercialized it in 1991, the market is fast expanding towards new applications in electric mobility and energy storage," said Yazami, who is not involved in Chen's research project.

The NTU report on the study says the fabrication of the ultrafast battery is a matter of combining titanium dioxide and sodium hydroxide at the proper temperature, a process that would require little if any retrofitting on the part of manufacturers to began producing the batteries on an industrial scale.

Right now, Yazami's biggest concern about the ultrafast cells is capacity.

"However, 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," says 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."  

The research team is applying for a grant to build a large-scale prototype. The new batteries are expected to last for 10,000 charging cycles, as compared with the rechargeable lithium-ion batteries now used in smartphones and electric vehicles that usually last about 500 recharge cycles.

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