Toshiba has established itself as a leader in the field of electric vehicle (EV) battery technology, supplying the lithium-ion packs for the Mitsubishi i-Miev and Honda Fit (Jazz) EV.
With a claimed life of 10 years and all the requisite safety precautions for use on the public road, the current Super Charge ion Battery (SCiB) does its job with a minimum of fuss.
But the next-generation SCiB, inventively named SCiBTM, promises to build on that base with a new titanium-niobium oxide anode, which opens the door for super-fast recharging – 320km of range in just six minutes.
That’s around three-times faster than current technology allows.
It’s also less likely to suffer lithium metal deposition during quick charging or charging in extreme cold, which Toshiba says is one of the major causes of battery wear in current batteries.
Toshiba says a 50Ah prototype battery has demonstrated the technology has a long life cycle, operates without causing excess heat, and allows for lightning-quick recharging.
The test battery has retained 90 per cent of its initial capacity, despite being put through 5000 charge/discharge cycles – 14 years of once-daily charging – and ultra-fast charge has been successfully tested at -10 degrees.
“We are very excited by the potential of the new titanium-niobium oxide anode and the next-generation SCiBTM,” said Dr. Osamu Hori, director of Corporate Research and Development Centre at Toshiba Corporation. “Rather than an incremental improvement, this is a game-changing advance that will make a significant different to the range and performance of EV.”
“We will continue to improve the battery’s performance and aim to put the next generation SCiBTM into practical application in fiscal year 2019.”
Although fast-charging is one step toward widespread adoption of electric vehicles, the tech in Toshiba's battery doesn't necessarily offer a better range than you'd find in current lithium-ion batteries.
"Niobium is certainly not one of the lighter elements," Professor Douglas MacFarlane, energy theme leader of the Australian Centre for Electromaterials Science, told CarAdvice.
"At a guess, I doubt these – in terms of energy density – are much better [than conventional lithium-ion batteries]."
"If it's a six-minute charge, you or I could probably go on our daily commute or our weekly commute. We'd probably put up with a 200-mile range," he continued. "Whereas if it's an overnight charge, your 200 miles start to become a bit of a problem. You'd have to think about when you were going to have your overnight charge done."
The other area where the the new Toshiba battery doesn't advance the game is in the field of safety.
"Lithium-ion batteries contain a flammable liquid electrolyte which doesn't go well once it is heated beyond about 150 degrees or so," Professor MacFarlane told CarAdvice. "The battery has got a tendency to overheat itself under certain kinds of mal-treament or damage, like a collision in a car would be an issue.
"And once the battery gets too hot, the whole thing just begins to go into a 'thermal runaway' we call it, which ultimately produces a fire or even a small explosion of the battery, which is pretty serious in a big battery pack."
Solid-state batteries, the likes of which Toyota has promised in a production car for 2022, don't suffer the same fiery tendencies. Rather than using a liquid electrolyte, they use a solid polymer material, which means there's nothing volatile or flammable inside the pack.
An MIT report on the technology says you could drive a nail through a solid-state battery, or smash one against a wall, and it would be unlikely to catch fire. The technology is, in the words of Professor MacFarlane, "intrinsically much more stable under a variety of both normal and abnormal operating conditions".
Given the frequency with which cars crash into each other, that can only be a good thing.