UM Engineering and US DOE partner to develop advanced batteries and fuel cells

Eric Kazyak is trying to verify solid-state lithium metal batteries that use a solid electrolyte instead of the flammable liquid electrolyte currently used inside the battery fabrication and characterization facility at Phoenix Memorial Laboratory. // Courtesy of Robert Coelius/UM Engineering

A new $11 million research center, led by Michigan Engineering at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, aims to enable the development of advanced batteries and fuel cells for electric vehicles.

The program will focus on understanding an emerging branch of science involving mechanical and chemical phenomena that affect advanced battery designs.

UM and eight partner institutions will explore the use of ceramic ion conductors as a replacement for traditional liquid or polymer electrolytes in common lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles and in flow cells to store renewable energy in the network.

“The recent discovery of ceramic ion conductors that simultaneously exhibit unprecedented performance and stability has the potential to change the landscape of electrochemical energy storage technology,” says Jeff Sakamoto, professor of mechanical engineering at UM and director of the new center.

The four-year grant establishes a DOE Energy Frontier Research Center at UM, Mechano-Chemical Understanding of Solid Ion Conductors (MUSIC). Created in 2009, the program is designed to “tackle the toughest scientific challenges that are preventing advances in energy technologies”.

Ceramic ion conductors represent one such advancement, and MUSIC is responsible for performing the basic science necessary to explore their potential impact on a variety of technologies. These include long-term energy storage and hydrogen fuel cells.

“We have decades of fundamental research on ionic conduction in ceramics, and we are applying this knowledge to emerging applications such as batteries and fuel cells,” says Neil Dasgupta, deputy director of MUSIC and associate professor of mechanical engineering. at UM. .

“However, critical hurdles remain before large-scale commercialization can be achieved – many of which center on the unique mechanical properties that emerge at solid-solid interfaces in electrochemical cells. A primary goal of MUSIC is to reveal the mechanisms fundamentals of how stress and mechanical stress interact with electrochemistry, which will inform future efforts to develop and accelerate the commercialization of next-generation energy storage technology,” he adds.

Ceramic ion conductors could help advanced batteries hold more energy than lithium-ion batteries of the same size. However, when these new conductors are in contact with other components, the researchers noticed new and unusual behaviors resulting from this mixture of mechanical, electrical and chemical interactions.

“Our new center seeks to fill fundamental gaps in knowledge related to mechanochemistry with a diverse group of researchers from disparate fields of study,” says Sakamoto.

Traditional lithium-ion batteries power almost everything from cars to laptops. They typically use flammable liquid electrolytes to shuttle between cathode and anode in a cell. In addition to greater energy density, replacing these liquid electrolytes with ceramic ion conductors has the potential to improve safety.

For the buying public, range anxiety and a charging infrastructure that needs rapid growth are among the factors holding back the widespread adoption of electric vehicles. The price of vehicles, a factor strongly impacted by the cost of the battery, is another obstacle.

Other factors related to government regulations that push automakers to produce electric vehicles are the high cost to the environment. The lithium used in lithium-ion batteries is refined from ore using sulfuric acid. Lithium refining has created several EPA Superfund sites due to its high toxicity. Aluminum, copper, cobalt, nickel and manganese are other materials extracted from batteries to store electricity.

MUSIC researchers will look at manufacturing techniques using new materials as a way to reduce battery costs. And they will examine how the introduction of ceramic ion conductors affects degradation – the loss of charge capacity – in lithium metal, sodium metal, and other solid-state configurations.

MUSIC will be the latest addition to UM’s growing portfolio of research projects related to the future of mobility. In July, the State of Michigan approved a budget including $130 million for a new electric vehicle center led by Michigan Engineering. And UM is already home to the Walter E. Lay Auto Lab, Mcity’s autonomous vehicle testing facility, the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute and is a founding partner of the American Center for Mobility at Ypsilanti.

Additionally, the UM Battery Lab continues to play an important role in cross-pollinating the experience, knowledge, and know-how of advanced lithium-ion technology and manufacturing with ion conductor research in ceramic. The solid-state battery research that is part of MUSIC began in 2015 at UM and is now an integral part of the UM Battery Lab.

“Michigan continues to be at the center of mobility, and UM is a critical hub where all stakeholders – automakers, legislators, regulators, academics and researchers – interact and examine the issues at play,” says Alec D Gallimore, the Robert J. Vlasic Dean of Engineering.

“From conducting cutting-edge research on key technologies like batteries, to training next-generation engineers, to planning future infrastructure and dozens of other concerns, Michigan Engineering is immersed in everything that,” he adds.

MUSIC partner institutions include: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Texas, Austin, Northwestern University, Georgia Institute of Technology, Princeton University, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Purdue University.

Sakamoto is also a professor of materials science and engineering. Dasgupta is also an associate professor of materials science and engineering. Gallimore is also the Richard F. and Eleanor A. Towner Professor, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor, and Professor of Aerospace Engineering.