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ORNL to lead new EFRC focused on polymer electrolytes for energy storage

The Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory has been selected to lead an Energy Frontier Research Center (EFRC) focused on polymer electrolytes for next-generation energy storage devices such as fuel cells and solid-state electric vehicle batteries.

Announced recently by US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, the award will provide $11.5 million over four years to the new ORNL-led EFRC for Fast and Cooperative Ion Transport in Polymer-Based Electrolytes (FaCT).

DOE awarded more than $400 million toward establishing and continuing 43 EFRCs across the nation.

The EFRC program was established in 2009 by the Office of Basic Energy Sciences within DOE’s Office of Science. The funding opportunity sponsors fundamental research to accelerate scientific breakthroughs needed to strengthen the US energy economy. Centers bring together multidisciplinary teams from universities, nonprofits, industry and national laboratories to tackle challenges across promising areas for future energy technologies.

ORNL has partnered with six universities on FaCT including The Pennsylvania State University; the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign; Texas A&M University; the University of California, Santa Barbara; the University of Tennessee, Knoxville; and Georgia State University.

Our overall goal is to promote the design of novel polymers that enable ions, such as lithium or hydrogen, to move extremely fast. Polymers have the potential to serve as electrolytes in batteries and overcome some of the challenges in safety and efficiency that hinder progress in electric vehicles and other clean energy technologies.

—FaCT Director Valentino Cooper, an ORNL distinguished staff member and section head in the Materials Science and Technology Division

Liquid electrolytes for Li-ion batteries pose safety hazards because they are flammable materials and can degrade over time, limiting battery performance. While current lithium-ion batteries offer exceptional energy densities in a lighter package than traditional batteries, they have not been able to achieve DOE priorities for fast charging and extended range to support wider adoption of electric vehicles.

Replacing liquid electrolytes with polymer materials offers superior safety advantages, but lithium tends to move slowly through these materials. For polymer electrolytes to become a viable option, they need faster ion transport properties. FaCT takes a bottom-up approach, combining polymer synthesis, materials characterization, and computational modeling and simulation, to gain insights in enhancing polymers for battery and fuel cell applications.

FaCT collaborators include ORNL scientists Valentino Cooper, Chelsea (Xi) Chen, Miaofang Chi, Sheng Dai, Rajeev Kumar, Tomonori Saito, Yuya Shinohara, Alexei Sokolov and Zac Ward; Penn State’s Susan Sinnott, who will serve as the center’s deputy director, Mike Hickner, Ralph Colby and Wesley Reinhart; UIUC’s Kenneth Schweizer; Texas A&M’s Jodie Lutkenhaus; UCSB’s Raphaële Clément; UT’s Takeshi Egami and GSU’s Gangli Wang.


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