DOE awards $1M to develop composites for solid lithium conductors

A team of Penn State researchers have been awarded a $1M U.S. Department of Energy ARPA-E award to develop solid ion conductors using the novel process, "cold sintering." Credit: © iStock Photo/luchschenAll Rights Reserved.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Processing ceramics at low temperatures to create safe and reliable solid ion conductors is the focus of a $1M grant from the U.S. Department of Energy Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) awarded to a team of six Penn State researchers.

The project, funded through the agency’s Integration and Optimization of Novel Ion-Conducting Solids program, is one of 16 innovative proposals selected to receive funding through the agency as part of a $37M initiative to accelerate the development of next-generation battery and fuel cell products.

Leading the project at Penn State is Enrique Gomez, associate professor of chemical engineering, in collaboration with fellow Penn State researchers and co-investigators; Long-Qing Chen, Hamer Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, Engineering Science and Mechanics, and Mathematics; Tom Mallouck, Evan Pugh University Professor of Chemistry, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and Physics; Clive Randall, professor of materials science and engineering and director of the Materials Research Institute at Penn State; Adri van Duin, professor of mechanical and nuclear engineering and chemical engineering; and Chao-Yang Wang, Diefenderfer Chair Professor of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering.

The collaborative research team will investigate “cold sintering,” a process that enables the creation of solid ion conductors based on ceramics and polymer-ceramic composites at relatively low temperatures. The goal of the work is to lower electrolyte resistance and prevent the growth of battery-killing dendrites — both significant obstacles in the development of solid conductors.

“This project leverages a new approach to processing ceramics that has been recently developed by the Randall group at Penn State,” said Gomez.

He further explained that while conventional sintering requires an average temperature of 1,000 degrees Celsius or above, cold sintering is regulated to approximately 100 degrees Celsius. The significant reduction in temperature enables polymers and ceramics to be merged together successfully to create a new class of highly effective composites.

“We believe that co-sintered composites comprised of ceramics and polymers will be a critical element in developing batteries of the future,” said Gomez. “Co-composites offer the propensity for higher energy density and may provide a much safer alternative to current solutions. They are also very mechanically robust.”

Project studies supported by the grant have recently commenced at Penn State’s University Park campus and will continue to develop over the next 18 months.

Last Updated November 18, 2016