Renowned engineer, inventor, and scientist Rachid Yazami provides an in-depth look at his technology and how it could change Morocco and the world at large.
Rabat – Rachid Yazami is a world-renowned scientist whose discovery led to the lithium battery technology that fuels the digital devices of our modern world. His work has allowed for the mass production of ever-smaller devices as well as the introduction of the electric car. Professor Yazami lives in Singapore, from where he spoke to Morocco World News about his exciting new invention.
Yazami’s latest innovation can revolutionize battery charging and turn electric cars into a viable alternative to gasoline-fueled vehicles for longer journeys. The technology can help boost green energy production and change the future of transportation. The renowned engineer lifted the veil on his new technology, explaining how it works and how it could provide a technological boom for Morocco.
The problem with batteries
Current-day battery technology does not take into account the real context in which humans live.
Accelerated charging for batteries has become a marketing technique that promises ever faster charging speeds without much real improvement. All the major brands continuously promote their battery tech, but in reality charging a lithium battery often still takes at least an hour or more.
While large brands such as Apple and Samsung promote their charging capabilities, in reality these promises often mean offering a quick charging of a fraction of the total battery capacity. “This can be misleading,” Yazami said.
“There is no technology that enables the charging of lithium batteries to be charged fully within a single hour, you only can do that at the risk of the battery catching fire.” Yazami tested these methods and batteries did indeed spark flames.
For regular phone users, charging their phones overnight gives them sufficient battery life to use their device throughout the day. The problem with charging speeds arises when we consider charging electric cars.
The development and sales of electric cars have seen a meteoric rise in recent years. Electric vehicles are much more environmentally friendly and powering them is over 75% cheaper than using oil or gas to refuel a vehicle, Yazami stressed.
The problem is that a gasoline-fueled car can easily make a round trip from Casablanca to Marrakech. However, “today there are no electric cars that would allow you to make a similar round trip, except for Tesla’s most expensive 100Kwh model.”
Having to stop and charge a car for hours limits the function and appeal of electric cars. However, being able to charge these vehicles in the same time it takes to fuel a car, and have a quick rest, can change how we travel long-distance for decades to come.
A challenge for Yazami
Because people cannot wait too long, it is important to be able to charge a car in the time it takes to have a cup of coffee.
Charging in an “acceptable” time of roughly 15 minutes is critical for electric cars to be able to compete with gas-powered cars. That’s why people from the industry contacted Yazami and promptly sent him their batteries to test.
The industry set Professor Yazami a challenge. Most people do not wait until their battery has completely run out, instead most charge their car with about 20% power left. Sectoral professionals asked the professor to find a way to rapidly charge a car from 20% to a full charge.
In finding a solution, the professor had to take into account the two important metrics in battery technology: The temperature of the battery, to monitor overheating; and durability, which records the lifespan of the battery. Charging too fast could endanger both the battery’s lifespan and risk overheating.
Yet Yazami’s work soon overcame the challenge before him. His new technology allows charging in roughly 15 minutes instead of hours. Yazami’s charging technique manages to rapidly charge batteries without overheating and without reducing the lifespan of the battery.
Yazami’s technology is undergoing testing on a car battery for over 100,000 kilometers, an initiative which will conclude in November. The professor is confident it will work just as well for double that distance.
“This will be crucial for the future of electric vehicles.” The new charging technique will help make electric cars not only cheaper to use in the long term but also just as convenient as gas-powered vehicles.
Rachid Yazami is working with an industry-leading cell phone battery company in China that produces several billion batteries each year. The battery giant approached Yazami about applying the same method to charging mobile phones and the first tests have shown great promise.
Because the chemistry inside phone and car batteries is exactly the same, his revolutionary method worked just as well for smaller devices. “The Chinese are extremely excited,” Yazami said, adding that they are eager to discover his “magic” technique. Yazami’s reputation is rapidly growing in China with the media frequently featuring his work.
Meetings are underway with the Chinese and Yazami has no doubt that Chinese companies will rapidly adopt the new battery technology. They will do so through partnerships with his enterprise or even through reverse engineering.”They are pragmatic, they will make it happen.”
The problem with charging
There are three elements of a battery that you can measure directly. The phones in our pockets measure voltage, current, and temperature at all times. Measuring the temperature is a means to avoid overheating, to prevent the battery from catching fire or even exploding, while voltage and current similarly cannot be exceeded.
Before Rachid Yazami’s lithium batteries became the norm, nickel–cadmium batteries required users to fully discharge the battery before charging it, in order not to damage the battery. Despite lithium batteries no longer requiring this, the concept has somehow stuck in the minds of engineers.
Previous battery technology required a constant current to charge until reaching a set voltage limit. That concept continued when Sony introduced lithium batteries in the 1990s. This method works well, but it requires time. When someone charges a battery only part way, or charges it sporadically, this method doesn’t work so well.
Using constant currents, the voltage can only increase while charging, as if one is climbing a mountain. The charge maintains the current until achieving a certain level of voltage.
Thinking in a non-linear way
Yazami’s new technology’s genius revolves around reversing this process. Instead of focusing on the current, it focuses on voltage. It allows the system to increase or decrease the voltage to influence the current, instead of the other way around. This means that charging can speed up or slow down depending on how the battery is responding to an increase of voltage.
“We need to think about voltage, not current,” he explained. Rachid Yazami has developed sophisticated algorithms that make this possible. The concept challenges the norm of charging in a linear manner, where a constant current charges the battery in a gradual manner. Yazami instead works in a non-linear way, which led him to coin the new term “Non-Linear Voltammetry” (NLV.)
The electrical engineers who have developed batteries since the lithium innovation have simply chosen to use the simple linear method of previous battery technology. “There was not much innovation.” The method considers charging as a race under perfect conditions, but in real life there are rarely any “perfect conditions,” and charging needs to adapt to this.
Yazami’s batteries slow down or speed up charging depending on the conditions in real life. “This has totally changed the paradigm of battery charging.” By not focusing on a constant current, NLV charging will allow for much faster “adaptive” charging.
Safe and green
Yazami is confident NLV is currently the only technology in the world that can fully and safely charge a standard lithium battery in 20 minutes. The technology allows batteries to rapidly charge without ever pushing the limits, creating a safe and reliable fast-charging method with far-reaching implications.
The innovator keeps his methods within modest limits in order to allow the technology to work in every type of lithium battery, regardless of quality. Yazami’s team started with small batteries and gradually tested larger ones until successfully testing the technology on batteries for electric cars. Yet the technology could impact many other sectors, including energy generation itself.
The technology could revolutionize green energy. In particular, wind power can benefit enormously by using moments of strong wind to rapidly charge. This way, the NLV technology would allow wind turbines to benefit from intense weather by rapidly charging, instead of using the current slow method that does not take advantage of such surges.
As long as a battery is of good quality, which is easy to test, the NLV technology can rapidly charge it. Furthermore, the NLV technology keeps batteries cool even during this rapid charging.
Bringing the technology to the world
Professor Yazami has presented his technology to Moroccan authorities but the initial reception was slow to develop. Unlike Silicon Valley’s “fail fast, fail often, fail forward” mentality of taking great risks with a likelihood of failure in order to advance, Morocco’s mentality has traditionally been more risk-averse.
“If it doesn’t work, they don’t care in California,” Yazami explained. “In Morocco you don’t have a chance to fail.” Without this mentality of risk-taking, innovation slows down. The renowned scientist has always received more praise and awards from other countries than from Morocco. Even though he is trusted, few from his own country dared invest in his technology in its early stages.
However, last week everything changed after Rachid Yazami’s appearance on a webinar hosted by the CDG Institute in Rabat. An enthusiastic individual of modest means who offered to put his life savings into Yazami’s technology exemplified the excitement surrounding the innovation. The webinar brought Yazami attention and the wheels started moving.
Some people told the professor that they expected the Moroccan government to be unreceptive, and recommended he sell his innovation in the US or Asia instead.
But professor Yazami responded strongly, saying he believed that things are changing, making him very optimistic. On Thursday, high-level officials contacted Yazami and — pending an official announcement — it appears the Ministry of Industry will now invest in his innovation.
One billion customers
Yazami sees the renewed focus on his work as a sign of a possible return to a solidarity-centered Morocco. For years much Moroccan capital has flowed abroad with little return for the country’s people, but now many appear eager to invest in Morocco’s identity and values. Morocco has certain key advantages, especially its position as a trading nation and its mineral wealth.
Rachid Yazami sees Morocco as a good place to develop the technology. The global use of the innovation means it is likely to spread around the world, and would be nearly impossible to keep in one country. Yet, Morocco is in a prime position to benefit from this new industry because of its large domestic market and its free trade agreements with the EU and US.
“Morocco has one billion customers, it’s a huge market,” Yazami said. And he is ready to move home to Morocco to see the project through.
After living outside Morocco since 1972 he will likely have to adjust slightly to a new Moroccan mentality. His time in Japan and Singapore has taught him how strict and efficient these countries can be. Returning to Morocco would likely require somewhat of a cultural adjustment for the well-travelled engineer, but he would be happy to do so.
“Fortunately I know some very good people in Morocco,” he said. “They have the same set of values, they think like me and they know Morocco.” Yazami has worked with the Moroccan mining industry for decades. He considers it a shame that the industry often exports the country’s mineral wealth, rather than turning it into products locally.
“We can do it,” he stated, adding that minerals like cobalt don’t need to travel 20,000 kilometers to turn into quality products. Rachid Yazami has shared this message since the early 1990s. “We in Morocco can produce these things.” For a long time, risk-averse thinking has limited this ability, but the professor sees the tides turning.
“We have all the resources, especially cobalt and phosphate,” he stated. Morocco is the largest phosphate exporter in the world, and without phosphate “there is no lithium battery.” A few years ago he gave a plenary to a phosphate congress in Marrakech where he reminded the local mining industry of the importance of their product to the production of lithium batteries.
The only reason lithium batteries work is because of phosphates, and Morocco has all the resources — lithium, phosphate and fluoride — “all we need is the chemists that combine them.”
Education is key
In order to benefit fully from Morocco’s mineral riches, Rachid Yazami urges better education, which he considers central. “We need people to dream, to be enthusiastic about learning, to be open-minded.” This fits well within Morocco’s values as Islam’s historic focus on science makes it the “religion of openess, of the light, as it has been.”
Yazami emphasized Morocco’s history as a center of knowledge. He spoke of the world’s oldest still-functioning university, in Fez, and the fact that it was founded by a Muslim woman. This should be an inspiration for Moroccan women especially, and Rachid Yazami hopes science can help local women in remote regions embrace science as a way to empower themselves.
The inventor recognizes that Morocco’s brain drain does not just refer to young Moroccans going abroad after their studies, it is also these young women stuck at home while they have so much to offer. When Yazami visited his grandfather’s village over the past decades he saw women doing menial labor and felt sad about the waste of talent and brain power.
Rachid Yazami considers education to be the key to Morocco’s future. He calls for well-paid and highly educated teachers to kick-start Morocco’s technological future. Teaching should be an honorable profession that demands good education and recognition of its importance. “We have to select the best ones, and pay them good money even during their studies.”
Neglecting education means people end up in jail, committing crime, or in poverty, according to Yazami. He recommends that Morocco starts to think “out-of-the-box.” Much is already underway, but a more radical overhaul is needed, according to Yazami. He sees Singapore’s focus on education as a key aspect of their economic success and he is confident Morocco can achieve the same results.
Investing in education would be affordable and revolutionary, according to Rachid Yazami. “Give me only a tiny fraction of the money being spent on COVID-19 related stimulus and we can change the world from Morocco,” he confidently emphasized.