By Battery Power Online Staff
August 5, 2019 | The U.S. Department of Energy has recognized three researchers in the Center for Electrochemical Energy Science (CEES) for two new electrode technologies for next-generation lithium-ion batteries.
The award is one of ten given by the DOE last week to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the DOE’s Energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRCs)—the Ten At Ten Awards. The recipients are two former CEES members, Harold Kung and Cary Hayner, and a current CEES member, Mark Hersam. Both Kung and Hersam are professors at Northwestern University, and Hayner is chief technical officer and co-founder of NanoGraf Corp. (formerly SiNode Systems).
CEES is a multi-organizational EFRC led by Argonne National Laboratory in partnership with Northwestern University, University of Illinois and Purdue University. Its mission is to explore the fundamental chemistry and materials underlying batteries and energy storage by means of state-of-the-art materials synthesis and characterization.
“This award is the consequence of the long-range vision, established at the very start of CEES in 2009, that a robust fundamental understanding of the electrode processes in lithium-ion batteries would have broad benefits,” said Paul Fenter, CEES director and senior physicist in the Chemical Sciences and Engineering division, in a press release. Such batteries could power electric vehicles and drones as well as provide energy storage for the grid.
“The interdisciplinary collaborative environment within CEES provides a breeding ground not only for fundamental discoveries but also for disruptive thinking that spawns new technologies,” said Hersam in the same release. “The EFRC program is a poignant example of how government investment in research ultimately fuels the innovation that underlies economic growth.”
The Ten at Ten Award recognizes two new electrode technologies for next-generation lithium-ion batteries that were developed based on research that was initiated in CEES. Both technologies use “graphene,” carbon layers just one atom thick, to coat the active materials within the battery electrode to create a “composite” electrode structure. The first advance by Hayner and Kung used graphene in the battery anode, encapsulating particles of silicon. The second advance by Hersam incorporated graphene in the cathode, to encapsulate manganese-based oxides.
The resulting electrodes consist of graphene-coated active materials that have substantially improved properties, such as increased battery power, lifetime, and safety, as well as diminished likelihood of safety problems such as a violent reaction. Another important feature of these technologies is that they enable lithium-ion batteries to function at temperatures well below the freezing point—a capability critical for electric car owners in cold regions.
“CEES is especially proud that the award-winning research has given birth to two startups,” noted Fenter in the announcement. A startup company co-founded by Kung and Hayner in 2012 (NanoGraf) is commercializing the graphene-based silicon anode, while a startup company co-founded by Hersam in 2018 (Volexion) is bringing the graphene-based cathode to market.
“We owe our entire existence as a company to the research and people who are part of CEES,” said NanoGraf co-founder Hayner. “The transformative discoveries made by CEES scientists has enabled us to further develop these technologies and bring them to the market to drive a cleaner, more sustainable future.”