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NSF Award to Improve Domestic Energy Security with Solid-State Batteries

Batteries are used in seemingly every part of most people’s lives: cars, computers, even phones. But they can come at a price. “Batteries use electrolytes which are highly flammable from organic electrolyte and the issue can lead to vehicles and even airplanes catching fire,” Hongli (Julie) Zhu, assistant professor of mechanical and industrial engineering, explains. Then there is also a desire for increased performance to enable applications from portable electronics to transportation, such as automobile and airplane. What may be guessed as opposite goals—increasing safety and performance—may actually be achieved by solid-state batteries.

Awarded a $480,000 National Science Foundation grant, Zhu and Joshua Gallaway, assistant professor of chemical engineering, are leading teams for a study of solid-state electrolytes, a key component that enables high energy density battery chemistries while providing safety and durability benefits. Using famed Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago, the teams are analyzing the contents of a standard electrolyte battery and an experimental one to improve metal sulfide stability in solid-state electrolytes for solid-state lithium metal batteries.

The findings will be used to modify the metal sulfide chemistry through elementary doping and to stabilize the interface through engineering, Galloway says“Hongli’s group has synthesized and will make modifications and characterizations to the fundamental materials in the battery. Our group will use high power techniques to observe the batteries in an operando state, looking inside them without opening them,” Gallaway says. “It’s trickier than it sounds. During the project both groups are going to contribute to the overall design of how to assemble them.

The study has another important application, according to Zhu. “Energy security is a key opportunity,” she says. “A solar panel with window energy for renewable energy is intermittent so you need a battery for a large-scale grid storage. Of course, solid-state has a long way to go because now costs compared to organic electrolytes are still relatively higher.”

If the work leads to what they hope, Gallaway believes everyone could potentially benefit. “When you consider how technology has changed our lives, we forget the role of the battery in this,” he says. “Its limitations sometimes hold us back, but it’s exciting to think we have a chance to take this huge leap forward.”

Abstract Source: NSF

There is a critical need for improved energy storage technologies for electric vehicles and large-scale integration of renewable electricity grid storage to improve domestic energy security. Currently, state-of-the-art energy storage technologies such as lithium ion batteries are insufficient in providing the performance requirements needed such as cost and energy density to enable broad use. Battery chemistries using high energy density electrodes and solid-state electrolytes could provide an avenue towards gains in energy density and durability for these applications. This project is a fundamental research study of solid-state electrolytes, a key component that enables these high energy density battery chemistries along with safety and durability benefits. Sulfide composites are promising as solid electrolytes in all solid-state batteries due to their high ionic conductivity and favorable mechanical strength features. However, sulfide solid electrolytes still face challenges that limit their use. This project will result in fundamental understanding of the mechanisms and material interactions of metal sulfides in all solid-state batteries. The research will guide improvements to material design, improved electrolytes and electrodes, and eventually lead to improved designs for high energy, solid-state batteries. Society will also benefit from the training of highly qualified researchers who will be able to continue technology improvements in creating large-scale energy solutions from science, technology, engineering, and math disciplines.

The specific objective of this research is to improve metal sulfide stability in solid-state electrolytes for the application of all solid-state lithium batteries. In pursuit of this objective, the fundamental mechanisms of metal sulfide ion conduction and interface reactivity will be interrogated by operando characterization carried out on realistic, fully operational battery cells. This will reveal the critical materials evolution processes occurring at buried interfaces within sealed devices during cycling. The findings will be used to modify the metal sulfide chemistry through elementary doping and to stabilize the interface through interface engineering. This will be accomplished by the convergent effort of two research groups, one with expertise in synthesis and materials engineering, interface stabilization, and cell modification, and one skilled in operando characterization and modeling of batteries. The methodology in this work combining materials synthesis and evaluation, operando device characterization, and computation will lead to an in-depth understanding of the thermodynamic, kinetic, electrochemical, chemomechanical, and structural stability of metal sulfide all solid-state batteries.

Related Faculty: Hongli (Julie) Zhu, Joshua Gallaway

Related Departments:Chemical Engineering, Mechanical & Industrial Engineering