DOE $11 million Center for Next Generation Battery Technology

Eric Kazyak, Researcher in Mechanical Engineering, attempts to verify lithium metal solid-state batteries that use a solid electrolyte instead of the flammable liquid electrolyte currently used inside the Battery Characterization and Fabrication User Facility at Phoenix Laboratory Memorial.  Photo Credit: Robert Coelius/University of Michigan Engineering, Communications, and Marketing
Eric Kazyak, Researcher in Mechanical Engineering, attempts to verify lithium metal solid-state batteries that use a solid electrolyte instead of the flammable liquid electrolyte currently used inside the Battery Characterization and Fabrication User Facility at Phoenix Laboratory Memorial. Photo Credit: Robert Coelius/University of Michigan Engineering, Communications, and Marketing

A new $10.95 million research center, run by Michigan Engineering and funded by the US Department of Energy, could help enable the development of advanced fuel cells and batteries for electric vehicles.

It focuses 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 polymeric electrolytes in common lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles and in flow cells to store renewable energy on the grid.

“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,” said Jeff Sakamoto, professor of mechanical engineering at UM and director of the new center.

Ceramic ion conductors could help advanced batteries pack more power than lithium-ion batteries of the same size. However, when these new conductors are in contact with other components, the researchers have noticed some new and unusual behaviors that arise from that combination of mechanical, electrical, and chemical interactions.

“Our new center seeks to bridge fundamental knowledge gaps related to mechanochemistry with a diverse group of researchers who come from disparate fields of study,” said Sakamoto.

The four-year grant establishes a DOE Energy Frontier Research Center at UM, the Mechanochemical Understanding of Solid Ion Conductors (MUSIC). Established in 2009, the program is designed to “address the most difficult scientific challenges impeding advances in energy technologies.”

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

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“We have decades of fundamental research on ceramic ion conduction to work with, and we’re applying that knowledge to emerging applications like batteries and fuel cells,” said Neil Dasgupta, deputy director of MUSIC and an associate professor of mechanical engineering at UM. .

“However, critical barriers remain before widespread commercialization can be realized, many of which center around the unique mechanical properties that arise at solid-solid interfaces in electrochemical cells. An overall goal of MUSIC is to reveal the fundamental mechanisms of how mechanical stresses and strains interact with electrochemistry, which will inform future efforts to scale up and accelerate the commercialization of next-generation energy storage technology,” he added.

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

Yuxin Chen, a graduate student instructor and graduate student research assistant in mechanical engineering, tries to verify the charge of lithium metal solid-state batteries that use a solid electrolyte instead of the flammable liquid electrolyte currently used.  Photo Credit: Robert Coelius/University of Michigan Engineering, Communications, and Marketing
Yuxin Chen, a graduate student instructor and graduate student research assistant in mechanical engineering, tries to verify the charge of lithium metal solid-state batteries that use a solid electrolyte instead of the flammable liquid electrolyte currently used. Photo Credit: Robert Coelius/University of Michigan Engineering, Communications, and Marketing

For the buying public, range anxiety and a rapidly growing charging infrastructure are among the factors holding back the widespread adoption of electric vehicles. Vehicle prices, a factor heavily affected by battery cost, is another hurdle.

MUSIC researchers will look at manufacturing techniques using new materials as a means of reducing battery costs. And they will examine how the introduction of ceramic ion conductors affects degradation (loss of chargeability) in metallic lithium, metallic sodium, and other solid-state configurations.

A demonstration of a machine that uses heat to densify a ceramic known as LLZO at 1225 degrees Celsius.  Photo Credit: Evan Dougherty/Michigan Engineering Communications & Marketing
A demonstration of a machine that uses heat to densify a ceramic known as LLZO at 1225 degrees Celsius. Photo Credit: Evan Dougherty/Michigan Engineering Communications & Marketing

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

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In addition, the UM Battery Laboratory continues to play an important role in cross-pollinating the expertise, knowledge and experience of state-of-the-art lithium-ion technology and manufacturing with ceramic ion conductor research. Solid-state battery research that is part of MUSIC began in 2015 at UM and is now an integral part of the UM Battery Laboratory.

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

“From conducting cutting-edge research on key technologies like batteries, to training next-generation engineers, planning future infrastructure, and dozens of other concerns, Michigan Engineering is in the thick of it all,” he added.

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, National Laboratory Oak Ridge 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.

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