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Research shows new battery to have reduced costs, charge times

Chemical engineering doctoral student, Michael Gordon, assembles a test cell for a convection battery developed in the lab of Professor Galen Suppes. The battery, which uses a pump, supplies nearly six times more energy than traditional batteries used in electric cars, and is less expensive.

Galen Suppes, J.C. Dowell Professor in chemical engineering, has developed and demonstrated a new “convection battery” that is a giant step toward allowing electric vehicles to replace those dependent on petroleum. The battery uses a pump, similar to a radiator pump in an automobile, to increase power output of batteries.

“Improved battery technology is the single most important technological breakthrough needed to secure a sustainable energy future and economic prosperity,” Suppes said.

Electrical energy is both relatively inexpensive and abundant in the U.S. from many sources. However, the high cost of batteries has limited our ability to use electrical energy for transportation. High battery costs also have placed restrictions on better use of wind and nuclear power necessary to meet this country’s electrical energy needs.

This diagram shows the schematics for the convection battery.

“What is needed is technology that will cut the price of large batteries by more than half while simultaneously reducing charging time,” said Suppes.

Research on the convection battery, initiated in 2008, has received funding from both the National Science Foundation and the Energy Innovations Small Grant Program of the California Energy Commission.

Results from the studies have been published in the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AICHE) Journal and the Journal of Applied Electrochemistry. They were also presented at the AICHE annual meeting in October 2011. Since then, definitive data have been collected that verifies increased power output and recharging capabilities.

In validating studies, the convection battery supplied nearly six times as much power output as an identical, traditional battery without a pump. A series of use and charge cycles also yielded outstanding performance.

One of the most promising aspects of this technology is that it can be used to improve the best available battery chemistries, as well as future breakthroughs in materials and chemistries. This compatibility includes traditional battery chemistries such as the lead-acid battery and the batteries currently used in electric vehicles.

Chemical engineering Professor Galen Suppes is working on a battery that aims to create a quicker charge time and put out more power in electric vehicles.

Multiple patents have been filed on the convection battery, and it is anticipated that the intellectual property will be preserved to allow major commercial opportunities in the U.S., estimated to be available by the end 2014.

“Just as the radiator pump in an automobile requires an insignificant amount of vehicle’s energy or cost, the pump on a convection battery will require an insignificant amount of energy and cost contribution,” Suppes said in response to queries about the pumps potential for increased battery costs. “The pump only will be used for high power surges with the larger batteries necessary for electric vehicles and grid storage.”

The convection battery pumps a liquid electrolyte directly between electrodes via a flow-permeable separator. This direct flow is the key to the increased power output. Increased power for a given area of separator can be used to reduce battery costs, reduce charge times or any combination of these.

Other researchers contributing to the project are graduate students Bryan Sawyer, Michael Gordon, Michael Heidlage and Donald Dornbusch.

Suppes was the recipient of the 2006 Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award. He is the co-author of the book,  “Sustainable Nuclear Power.”

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