Navigant Research Blog

Algorithm Could Accelerate Advanced Batteries

Anissa Dehamna — November 1, 2012

Innovation is what happens when we think our way out of a problem.  Engineers at the University of California, San Diego have developed sophisticated algorithms designed to run lithium ion batteries more efficiently and to do what chemistry can’t do:  reduce the cost of lithium ion batteries by up to 25%.  The algorithms would also be used to charge batteries up to twice as quickly.

Considering how many products use lithium ion batteries, the consequences for the market would be enormous.  Anxious to charge up your smartphone before a big day out?  What if you’re on a remote or fragile grid and need to charge a piece of critical equipment in a hurry? Nervous about driving your electric car on a long trip?

For that matter, what if there’s a superstorm approaching and you’ve got a limited amount of time to charge multiple devices?

Although the improved performance of lithium ion batteries could be a game-changer, so could lower costs, particularly in emerging markets like grid storage.  In a market where flywheels, advanced batteries, compressed air, and pumped storage are competing for market share, a system that’s more cost competitive on a power or energy basis will get much more attention and traction.

In the energy storage space, advanced batteries get a great deal of airtime but are typically dinged for two fatal flaws (depending on the chemistry involved): it’s difficult to eke out more efficiency and to reduce costs, and the batteries frequently need to be “oversized” to perform properly in applications that don’t quite align with the electrochemical limitations of the technology.

Undeterred, the researchers at UC San Diego are using mathematics to estimate where particles in the battery are so that the anode could be filled to capacity safely and efficiently (thus charging more quickly).  These innovators claim that the algorithms they have developed can estimate how a battery degrades over time and could reduce manufacturing costs for lithium ion batteries by up to 25%.

Thanks to the forward-thinking program managers at the Department of Energy’s advanced research arm, ARPA-E, this innovation will get a chance to be tested and demonstrated using a $460,000 grant and real batteries.

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