DOE Grant to Develop Batteries of the Future Awarded to Two ME Professors

October 20, 2010

Professors John B. Goodenough and Arumugam “Ram” Manthiram were recently awarded a $4.5 million grant along with Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) to tackle one of the most difficult and perplexing hurdles facing electric vehicles: their batteries.

The three-year grant was awarded by the U.S. Department of Energy and gives $2.1 million to The University of Texas at Austin and $2.4 million to ORNL, located in Oak Ridge, Tenn. Goodenough, the Virginia H. Cockrell Centennial Chair in Engineering, developed the cathode materials for lithium-ion batteries that have enabled the wireless revolution; he will serve as the project’s principal investigator.

The collaboration combines expertise and resources from the two institutions to investigate how to increase the amount of electrical energy a battery can store and how to lower the battery cost through a fundamental understanding of the basic scientific issues involved and the design of new materials for the next generation of batteries.

“We have expertise here in UT-Austin in designing new materials, and ORNL has expertise in advanced materials characterization, so the collaboration between us and them is very complementary,” said Manthiram, the Joe C. Walter, Jr. Chair in Engineering, who is engaged in developing high-performing electrode materials for lithium-ion batteries. “It will bring more understanding working together than if we worked individually.”

Goodenough said the lithium-ion batteries that UT and ORNL develop will lower costs not only for the electric vehicles (EVs) market, but also for the electric grid system to enable better utilization of alternative energy sources like wind, solar and nuclear.

“ORNL provides some characterization techniques not available to us, experience with polymer electrolytes, and a bridge from the fundamental work done at UT-Austin to commercialization,” Goodenough said.

Current battery technologies fall short of meeting future needs for EVs and smart grid applications, both in their performance and cost. Battery packs for electric vehicles run upwards of $15,000, Manthiram said.

The overarching goal of the research project will be to understand and control fundamental processes that occur at the interfaces of the electrode and electrolyte to enable the development of new materials for next-generation batteries.

Research work on the project will be directed at the output voltage (V) and the total charge per unit weight transferred in full discharge at an operational current (I) by understanding and controlling the solid-electrolyte interfacial (SEI) layer. Alternative electrode and electrolyte strategies combined with advanced characterization techniques are pursued to achieve these goals. Alternative battery strategies are also being investigated.

Students will have a hand in the research. In addition to carrying out research at UT-Austin, graduate and postdoctoral students in the Cockrell School of Engineering will work alongside scientists and engineers at ORNL periodically to characterize the samples that are developed at UT-Austin.

The project offers an opportunity for transformative advances in batteries for vehicle and stationary storage applications.