By Eric Gomez
Voiland College intern
Washington State University researchers have received a $500,000 Department of Energy grant to develop safer, low-cost batteries for energy storage, a critical component for renewable energy.
Scott Beckman, an associate professor, and Soumik Banerjee, an assistant professor in the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, are leading the theoretical research component of a multi-university team. The WSU research team will be working at the atomic scale to model materials and interfaces in the solid electrolyte, anode and cathode of the sodium-based battery.
“When you use solar panels, a green source of energy, the power they receive isn’t constant. We have cloudy days that disrupt the flow of energy,” said Banerjee. “We need batteries to store the energy so we can use it when it’s needed.”
The project, funded by an Advanced Research Projects Agency Energy (ARPA-E) grant, also includes experimental researchers from Iowa State University, University of Colorado Boulder, University of Houston, and Solid Power, a developer of solid-state rechargeable batteries.
Using high performance computing tools, the researchers are modeling possible materials for sodium-based batteries. Sodium is cheaper, nontoxic and more abundant than lithium, but the sodium batteries typically have a lower energy density than lithium batteries.
The lithium-ion batteries used in modern consumer goods use gel or liquid electrolyte that separates the positive and negative electrodes. As the battery operates lithium ions pass through this electrolyte. Moving to a solid-electrolyte, such as that being studied in this project, will improve the overall energy density of the battery while also using sodium, which may be more cost effective. A solid electrolyte is also safer than a liquid-based electrolyte because it prevents short circuits across the electrolyte, which has led to fires in some of the Li-ion batteries used in the past.
With their simulations, the researchers will identify suitable materials and tailor electrode-electrolyte interfaces to significantly improve battery performance.
The project will run for three years and will support two PhD students and an undergraduate research assistant.