Allotrope Energy in the UK says it has developed a lithium carbon battery for mopeds and scooters that can be recharged in as little as 90 seconds. The new battery is being supplied to manufacturers by Mahle Powertrain, a global Tier One supplier to the automotive and mobility market.
The fast charging capacity is a result of the lithium carbon battery’s high specific power, which can exceed 15 kilowatts per kilogram, according to Allotrope. 10 kW per kilogram is the norm for other lithium-ion battery chemistries.
Pete Wilson, Allotrope’s technical director, tells Canary Media the key to lithium carbon technology is the development of non-porous carbon which has traditionally been categorized as a capacitor material. He says that in 2014, a German automotive company came to the Allotrope team, which was then focused on capacitors, in search of a new battery technology.
“We realized that the battery they were asking for was not an ultracapacitor and it wasn’t a lithium ion battery, but some bizarre combination of both,” Wilson says. “When we did the basic mathematics on why this battery had not been commercialized, it became clear the reason is this problem with the carbon. We were a company that specialized in carbon. As a result, we put all the pieces together.” Several years back, Tesla invested in ultracapacitor technology when it purchased Maxwell.
Lithium Carbon Is Good For Some Applications But Not For Others
Lithium carbon is well suited to electric mopeds and scooters because the vehicles and their charging requirements are relatively simple, Wilson explains. It is quite easy to build a lithium carbon battery to replace the ferrous phosphate or lead acid products used today.
In theory, the battery could be fully charged in just 60 seconds. The 90-second charging time is due to the limitations of charging infrastructure rather than the battery. “The reason why it’s a 90-second charging concept is because Mahle designed a prototype buffered charge point. The charger has a battery inside it and the battery dumps its energy into the moped,” Wilson explained.
For the larger batteries used in electric cars, there simply isn’t enough grid capacity to cope with lithium carbon batteries. That’s why it’s unlikely the chemistry will be scaled up for larger vehicles any time soon. Wilson thinks it would make more sense for electric cars to use hybrid lithium-ion battery and ultracapacitor systems that can be charged within five minutes using 350 kilowatt charge points.
This is not some pie in the sky laboratory experiment. Lithium carbon batteries from Allotrope Energy are expected to be available in production vehicles before the end of this year. If EV charging times can be shortened significantly, many of the fears people have about electric vehicles will be eliminated.
Other Uses For Lithium Carbon Technology
There are several potential applications for lithium carbon batteries other than in mopeds and scooters, Wilson says. Allotrope is also in talks with charging station operators about creating battery-backed buffers for electric vehicle charging systems as well as for dockside charging systems for ships. They could also be used to shorten the charging time for last-mile delivery vehicles and autonomous guided vehicles such as automatic forklifts, Wilson says.
Beyond its high specific power, another advantage of the lithium carbon chemistry is that it does not use cobalt or nickel, two elements that pose supply-chain concerns for manufacturers of conventional lithium-ion batteries. Cobalt in particular has limited availability. “You could not electrify all the cars in this world with cobalt — we simply don’t have enough,” says Wilson.
There is a lot of hand-wringing today about how the EV revolution will stall because of a lack of batteries. Allotrope Energy doesn’t have the solution for every use case, but if its lithium carbon technology was utilized in cases where it is effective, some of those supply pinch points could be avoided.
Necessity is the mother of invention, so they say. Continuing to burn fossil fuels to move people from here to there and back again is simply unsustainable. It seems likely that lithium carbon battery technology could be an important tool to move the mass adoption of electric vehicle technology forward.
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