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DOE awards $1.1M to Penn State project to develop protective, self-healing layers for Li metal anodes

The US Department of Energy Vehicle Technologies Office has awarded Donghai Wang, associate professor of mechanical engineering at Penn State, a $1.1-million grant to develop a new lithium-ion conductor for the protection of lithium metal used in next-generation battery technologies for electric vehicles. (Earlier post.)

With the new funding, Wang, who leads the Energy Nanostructure Laboratory at Penn State, and his team will use very thin layers of nanostructured hybrid (organic-inorganic—i.e., organo-LixSy and organo-LixPySz) materials to suppress the formation of dendrites on lithium metal anodes. The overall goal is to develop protective, self-healing layers for Li-metal anodes that will allow high cycling efficiency (> 99.7%) and dendrite-free cycling.

One challenge for batteries with lithium anodes—including energy-dense, next-generation batteries such as Li-sulfur or Li-air—is that as they charge and discharge, dendrites form and grow from the anode through the electrolyte, eventually bridging the positive and negative sides of the battery and causing a short-circuit, which can overheat and cause a fire.

Wang’s research will seek to develop a protective coating that will prevent the formation of dendrites by separating the anode from the electrolyte.

Once the protective layer is in place over the anode, Wang believes he can create a safer, lighter, more powerful, more efficient electrical vehicle battery. He will then test his new battery and compare its performance with that of a current-generation electric vehicle battery.

The total amount of Wang’s award is $1,139,319. His project was one of 35 chosen for funding in 2016 by the Vehicle Technologies Office. All of the projects funded aim to reduce the cost and improve the efficiency of plug-in electric, alternative fuel, and conventional vehicles and most will support the goals of EV Everywhere, an effort to make plug-in electric vehicles as affordable and convenient as gas-powered vehicles by 2022.

As part of the same batch of VTO awards, the DOE is also awarding $1,250,000 to a separate, new research project led by Prashant N. Kumta at the University of Pittsburgh on engineering approaches to dendrite-free lithium anodes. This project will design composite lithium anode / current collector to mitigate dendrite formation. Composite structures consisting of a porous foam (for example, copper) and an optimal isomorphous lithium alloy (for example, lithium and magnesium) will be explored.


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