A thermally modulated battery for mass-market electric vehicles without range anxiety and with unsurpassed safety, low cost, and containing no cobalt, is being developed by a team of Penn State engineers. (Image: Chao-Yang Wang’s lab, Penn State)

Range anxiety, the fear of running out of power before being able to recharge an electric vehicle, may be a thing of the past, according to a team of Penn State engineers who are looking at lithium iron phosphate batteries that have a range of 250 miles, with the ability to charge in 10 minutes.

According to the researchers, the battery they developed can be used for mass market vehicles that have cost parity with combustion vehicles. They also say that the battery should be good for 2 million miles in its lifetime.

They report that the key to long-life and rapid recharging is the battery’s ability to quickly heat up to 140 °F, for charge and discharge, and then cool down when the battery is not working. The battery uses a self-heating approach previously developed in Professor Chao-Yang Wang’s Electrochemical Engine Center. The self-heating battery uses a thin nickel foil with one end attached to the negative terminal and the other extending outside the cell to create a third terminal. Once electrons flow, the nickel foil is rapidly heated through resistance heating, which warms the inside of the battery. Once the battery’s internal temperature is 140 °F, a switch opens, and the battery is ready for rapid charge or discharge.

Wang’s team modeled this battery using both existing technologies and innovative approaches. They suggest that with this self-heating method, they can use low-cost materials for the battery’s cathode and anode and a safe, low-voltage electrolyte. The cathode is thermally stable lithium iron phosphate, which does not contain any expensive and critical materials like cobalt. The anode is made of very large particle graphite, a safe, light, and inexpensive material. Because of the self-heating, the researchers said they do not have to worry about uneven deposition of lithium on the anode, which can cause lithium spikes that are dangerous.

“This battery has reduced weight, volume and cost,” said Wang. “I am very happy that we finally found a battery that will benefit the mainstream consumer mass market.” According to Wang, these smaller batteries can produce a large amount of power upon heating — 40 kilowatt hours and 300 kilowatts of power. An electric vehicle with this battery could go from zero to 60 miles per hour in 3 seconds and would drive like a Porsche, he said. “This is how we are going to change the environment and not contribute to just the luxury cars,” said Wang. “Let everyone afford electric vehicles.”