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ARPA-E to award $30M to increase performance of solid ion conductors for batteries, fuel cells

The US Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) will award up to $30 million in funding for a new program focused on creating innovative components for the next generation of batteries, fuel cells, and other electrochemical devices.

ARPA-E’s Integration and Optimization of Novel Ion Conducting Solids (IONICS) program (DE-FOA-0001478) seeks to create transformational electrochemical cells by creating components built with solid ion conductors that have a wide range of desirable properties including low ionic area-specific resistance (ASR); high chemical and electrochemical stability; high selectivity; good mechanical properties; etc. through innovative approaches to overcome tradeoffs among coupled properties.

IONICS also seeks to develop and apply methods for processing of solid ion conductors and their integration into electrochemical devices.

Components built with solid ion conductors, especially separators, have the potential to serve as enabling platforms, as demonstrated by the wide application of Yttria-Stabilized Zirconia (YSZ) ceramics and perfluorosulfonic acid (PFSA) polymers (e.g., Nafion). The IONICS Program Categories focus on specific electrochemical cells with high impact for the energy sector whose commercial potential will be significantly enhanced with improved components built from solid ion conductors.

Program Categories include:

  1. Lithium (Li) ion conductors that enable the cycling of Li metal without shorting;
  2. Selective and low-cost separators for batteries with liquid reactants (e.g., flow batteries);
  3. Alkaline conductors with high chemical stability and conductivity; and
  4. Other approaches that could achieve the IONICS Program Objectives.

A key requirement of the IONICS program is the creation of manufacturable components with dimensions comparable to that used in a practical device, in order to ensure that technical challenges associated with large-area processing are addressed. A second key requirement is that the cost of materials and processing is sufficiently low to allow for the broad adoption necessary for significant energy impacts.

Background. Electrochemical cells can be used to both extract electrical energy from chemical bonds (e.g. in a fuel cell for combined heat and power applications) as well as to store electrical energy in chemical bonds (e.g. charging a battery). The cells can carry out these processes efficiently and across a wide range of power levels, which allows them to be used in both a distributed manner and in large centralized facilities.

These basic capabilities of electrochemical cells have two additional benefits: (1) high round-trip energy efficiency that in many cases has been realized practically (e.g., Li-ion cells can provide 90% round-trip DC-DC efficiency at relevant rates); and (2) scalability across a wide range of power levels (i.e., <1 kW to >1 MW), making them suitable for both small, distributed and large, centralized installations.

Previous ARPA-E programs have pursued advances in electrochemical devices and processes, including Batteries for Electrical Energy Storage in Transportation (BEEST); Grid-Scale Rampable Intermittent Dispatchable Storage (GRIDS); Robust Affordable Next Generation Energy Storage Systems (RANGE); Modern Electro/Thermochemical Advances in Light-metal Systems (METALS); Reliable Electricity Based on Electrochemical Systems (REBELS); and many projects within the OPEN portfolios.

These projects, however, principally focused on advances at the device or process level.

Based on the key challenges encountered in previous ARPA-E programs and in other research and development efforts, ARPA-E believes tremendous opportunities exist in developing a new generation of enabling components built with solid ion conductors.

There are many classes of ion conductors, including aqueous and nonaqueous salt solutions; solid ceramics; polymers and polymer gels; molten salts; and others. Electrochemical cells that operate near ambient temperatures typically use either a liquid electrolyte (e.g., aqueous H2SO4 in the case of lead-acid batteries, or LiPF6 in organocarbonates in the case of Li-ion batteries) or a polymer containing small molecules (e.g., hydrated PFSA in the case of fuel cells and electrolyzers).

While liquid electrolytes have benefits including high conductivity and excellent wetting of electrode surfaces, IONICS is specifically focused on electrolyte attributes unattainable with liquids, including resistance to deformation (i.e., a “solid” form), wide thermal stability, high selectivity for desired ions and neutral molecules, and other attributes detailed through this FOA.

Among the properties required of a solid ion conductor are:

  • The ionic area-specific resistance (ASR), which helps determine the power capability of an electrochemical device; it includes the ionic conductivity (an intrinsic property) and the thickness (an extrinsic property).

  • Selectivity—the ability of a material to transport ions and neutral molecules at different rates, with a goal of high selectivity for a desired species, typically a single ion.

  • Electro)chemical stability—both electrochemical stability and chemical stability, the former generally referring to stability as a function of an applied potential. In the ideal case all adjacent phases in a device are thermodynamically stable against reaction; in practice, stability is frequently realized with the help of slow kinetics and the formation of passivating layers.
  • he electronic ASR reflects resistance to electronic current, and includes the electronic conductivity and thickness. For a separator, the electronic ASR is ideally infinite, while for mixed conductors within electrodes a low ionic and electronic ASR is desirable.
  • Thermal properties refers to the dependence of key properties such as ionic and electronic ASR, (electro)chemical stability, mechanical properties, etc. on temperature. Ideally, a component is able to conduct current, resist degradation, and remain strong and tough across a wide range of temperatures.
  • Mechanical properties are critical both during both fabrication (e.g., for roll-to-roll processing the tensile strength and ability to wind around a mandrel are relevant) and during operation (e.g., a high shear modulus is theorized to prevent shorting during cycling of Li metal).
  • Processing—the method used to create components built with solid ion conductors, and cost includes both the processing cost and the bill of materials.
  • Device integration—the ability to integrate components built with solid ion conductors with other device components, as well as the implication of the components built with solid ion conductors on other device components (e.g., existing PFSA membranes require the use of costly Pt for the oxygen electrode catalyst).

The overall objective of the IONICS program is to enable widespread deployment of transformational electrochemical cells with energy applications through the development of separators and porous electrodes built with solid ion conductors.

To meet this objective, the IONICS program seeks to overcome difficult technical challenges associated with simultaneously achieving a wide set of property attributes noted above; cost-effective and scalable processing of solid ion conductors; and the integration of component with solid ion conductors into devices.

Radar diagram showing the overall objective of the IONICS program: replace today’s components based on solid ion conductors that have limited and uneven attributes (red) with new components optimized along all the required axes (green). Click to enlarge.


Henry Gibson

Perhaps GE will keep selling its solid electrolyte Durathon cell with liquid reactants and electrodes for long cycle life. NGK could transform its sodium sulphur cells into flow cells, but it would be more useful at times just to add more cells or make them larger.

FZSONICK has the ZEBRA battery which has been used in vehicles now for over 20 years and has never had a fire. It has similar capacity per unit weight as lithium cells and needs no elaborate cell cooling or protection. It has a very long life and no maintenance. It is well suited to House (wall) batteries for direct use in lighting and refrigeration or for very fast charging of an automobile battery at home or charging station and UPS and V2G operation. It could be reconfigured for higher power, but the need for higher current can be dealt with in other ways. Even electronic circuits can be developed that drain batteries or even single cells at higher power. Such circuits are called "Joule thiefs" a physics pun. For acceleration high currents are needed at low voltages which is exactly how computer power supplies are designed. Regenerative braking is a related process.

Full electric flywheel locomotives ran in English third rail territory and had good acceleration even where there was no power during a rail gap. Old Long Island rail-cars should have had flywheels for its lights during the gap. The flywheel system of the locomotives could be used for automobiles with high efficiency and low cost from a battery and not need a single high current transistor; perhaps TATA will build one. Rich people can use Ricardo graphite vacuum electric flywheels.

Ceramatec has experimented in developing membranes that operate at lower temperatures.

Ford invented the solid sodium-beta-alumina membrane for automobile batteries using sodium and sulphur. Others developed the fireproof sodium-nickel-chloride systems, and they would be much cheaper in high volume competitive production.

It is not well known that at a minimum, dilute sulphuric acid is seven times the volume of lead compounds actually involved in the reactions of a lead acid battery. A Firefly foam negative plate uses much less lead which is plated on the inside of the foam cell walls and the sulphuric acid fills the rest of the conductive carbon cell. Foam positive cells are in preparation, but corrosion resistant positive plates of a standard type were developed years ago and are presently being used.

Atraverda has been restarted with its Ebonex titanium conductive compound to eliminate lead inter-cell connectors with its bi-polar plates and much of the inactive lead conductors of the plates themselves. Electric current flows in a straight line from the active material on one side of the the plate to the other side active material and through the electrolyte to the neighboring plate for much less resistance and lead. EFFPOWER could not get its lead infiltrated ceramic bipolar plate batteries into the market where it would have made a much cheaper alternative to the Prius batteries. It would be interesting to see an Atraverda battery built to directly connect to an old Prius main battery to give it more electric range as was tested years ago by the CAlCARS main engineer Ron Gremban with VRLA units.

There no storage battery cell that does not contain toxic chemicals. Iron pills are toxic; iron powder is toxic. Zink is toxic. Drinking water of any kind is toxic. Lead cells of modern construction can cost less and have less lead and per cycle may be cheaper and will not catch fire. With mass production and a big market sodium-nickel-chloride can be quite cheap per unit energy handled and would be much longer lived and much safer than lithium formulas and should be installed in every home and other building for light reliability and safety of the inhabitants. DC distribution will save power in commercial buildings and most lighting types can run on DC power. A computer server facility now has medium voltage dc power fed to cabinets. Most desktop computers could run on or could be modified to run on 220 volts direct current. Many Laptop or cellphone chargers can also run on direct current.

Inverters that produce 50 or 60 Hz standard voltages from 220 or 110 volts DC are small cheap and easy to make to operate existing equipment. Most motors are more efficiently run with circuitry called drives that convert first AC to DC and then to variable voltage and frequency for the optimum efficiency or speed. Switched reluctance or synchronous reluctance motors are the lightest weight and most efficient motors that do not use expensive magnets and some are even more efficient than those with expensive magnets and are less likely to fail on overload. Drivers can be built for switched reluctance motors that permit operation of the motors with a few failed and shorted windings and energy is not automatically dumped into a shorted winding and cause it to explode and burn as is the case with permanent magnet motors.

Many fans and blowers can be replaced with much more efficient and reliable switched reluctance super high speed centrifugal blowers with air bearings that are longer lived and need no other lubrication than the blown air. Such machines have already been built to supply high pressure compressed air with high efficiency. There is already and air conditioning compressor on the market, TURBOCOR, that has magnetic bearings and needs no lubrication and saves energy just because there is no oil coating in the heat exchange coils. It has a converter driver just like other drives that drives the motor at the most efficient or even perhaps most cold producing speeds for efficiency or max cooling, starting with direct current.

A recent video of a burning lithium battery added to the pictures of burnt houses from exploding lithium batteries should be considered when investing into lithium batteries. Part of a massive Sodium sulphur battery installation caught fire and paused their production at NGK until more fuses and barriers were installed. If you think that the world can be made perfectly safe by bans of toxic materials, remember that 140000 people are killed by automobiles every year in India alone, and that 4000 gamma rays are emitted every second by your body from exploding potassium atoms into the things and people around you. Every plant and animal has always had exploding potassium atoms in it. See potassium-40.

Your body cells repairs almost all of the damage and the much more damage caused by oxygen. Most human cells are programmed to die after dividing a limited number of times anyway. A cancer sample cell now named HeLa was the first human cell that was discovered to have unlimited divisions possible in 1951, and it has been grown in ton quantities.

hydrocarbons are the most compact way to store hydrogen that is cheap and easy. Small cheap electric automobiles, like golf carts, can be used for short trips and are far safer than bicycles, but even they can have a tiny range extender run on a commonly available liquid fuel.

Longer trips can use an automobile with a regular engine or a turbine and an Artemis developed Digital Displacement regenerative transmission which is engineered to save half the fuel which Artemis has already demonstrated in town traffic. More efficient, crank-less Digital Displacement engine-pumps will be able to substantially improve on these savings. The French 2CV, two tax horse power, automobile was built with a rated engine of 9 actual peak horse-power, and it got around very well. ..HG..


Most people think that they are using what is best for them and humanity.

In reality, we use whatever can produce the highest profit margins for the industries concerned.

Very few know the difference or really want to now?

Children are too busy playing games with their smart phones and raising their stress level. Over 45% of students in primary school suffer from high level of stress induced with their phones and tablets. Over 100 T pills/year are required to calm them down. One industry supports another?


"..solid ion conductors.."
24M has a semi solid battery that looks good.

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