Charge battery in 10 min? NTU don's chip offers hope

Prof Rachid Yazami holding the smart chip he developed. Embedded in a rechargeable battery, the chip optimises how the battery is charged and can reduce charging time to 10 minutes or even less, says the NTU researcher. (Below) The chip compared to a
Prof Rachid Yazami holding the smart chip he developed. Embedded in a rechargeable battery, the chip optimises how the battery is charged and can reduce charging time to 10 minutes or even less, says the NTU researcher. PHOTO: NANYANG TECHNOLOGICAL UNIVERSITY
Prof Rachid Yazami holding the smart chip he developed. Embedded in a rechargeable battery, the chip optimises how the battery is charged and can reduce charging time to 10 minutes or even less, says the NTU researcher. (Below) The chip compared to a
The chip compared to a 10-cent coin.PHOTO: NANYANG TECHNOLOGICAL UNIVERSITY

Researcher says his technology has drawn interest from firms like Samsung and Sony

A chip the size of a fingernail and developed in Singapore could offer an answer to that common gripe of smartphone users - having to wait hours to get a full charge.

Nanyang Technological University Professor Rachid Yazami, one of three researchers credited with laying the groundwork for today's lithium-ion battery, claims that his new smart chip can cut recharging time to 10 minutes or even less.

And it can also reduce the risk of battery fires.

The technology, he said, has already garnered keen interest from some of the biggest names in the industry, such as Sony, Sanyo and Samsung. The Moroccan also intends to approach electric car maker Tesla.

"My vision for the future is that every battery will have this chip," said Prof Yazami, 62.

Currently, electricity is trickled into lithium batteries during charging to avoid overheating.

The new chip, which took more than five years to develop, however, can optimise the charging process when embedded in a battery, allowing the battery to power up at full speed.

The chip contains a unique algorithm - or formula - to precisely measure the amount of charge left in a battery, depending on its temperature and voltage. A similar chip is contained in the charger.

Together, they ensure that the lithium battery, used in many modern gadgets, including laptops and tablets, is charged optimally.

"Current chargers do not take into account the health of a battery when charging," Prof Yazami explained. "They send the same amount of charge regardless of the battery's condition. With this chip, the charge can be regulated to avoid damaging the battery."

The same technology allows the smart chip to determine if a battery is safe to use and potentially prevents devices from catching fire due to an overheated battery, he added.

"Although the risk of a battery failing and catching fire is very low, with billions of lithium-ion batteries produced yearly, even a one-in-a-million chance would mean over a thousand failures."

The chip is expected to be available to chipmakers and battery manufacturers by the end of next year.

Last year, Associate Professor Chen Xiaodong, from NTU's School of Materials Science and Engineering, invented a battery that can charge up to 70 per cent of its capacity in only two minutes.

He believes Prof Yazami's chip can play a role in his research.

"Batteries heat up when they are being charged, so for fast-charging batteries, there is always a risk that they might overheat. This smart chip can help prevent potential accidents," he said.

"I'm definitely interested in applying this technology to develop a battery that is not only fast-charging, but very safe as well."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 26, 2015, with the headline 'Charge battery in 10 min? NTU don's chip offers hope'. Print Edition | Subscribe