JCESR and Beyond: Translating the Basic Science of Batteries – “It’s all interfaces!”
By Dr. Michelle Tokarz, VP of Partnerships & Innovation
This week, I had the pleasure of attending the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR) conference on “Translating the Basic Science of Batteries” at Argonne National Labs, just outside Chicago, IL. JCESR was founded in 2012 with the mission of designing and building transformative materials enabling next-generation batteries that satisfy all the performance metrics for a given application. JCESR counts over 300 “alumni” from projects it has pursued, as well as 38 startups including Aspen Aerogels, Lyten, and Sila Nanotechnologies.
In their goal of developing next-generation batteries, they are mindful of the many different battery technologies currently being developed, including lithium-ion, solid state, multivalent, redox flow, and others. They are also cognizant of the Technology Readiness Levels (TRL) of each. Technology Readiness Levels describe, on a scale of 1 to 9, how well a particular technology has been developed and ready for mainstream use, with 1 being VERY early and needing MUCH R&D efforts, and 9 being as developed as possible and ready for consumer use in the market. Combining this TRL level with the current widespread use of batteries in electric vehicles and other applications makes this technology attractive for incremental improvements that can be quickly realized in the marketplace.
There was substantial discussion about the use of silicon in anodes and what kinds of inroads silicon will make in the next 5 years, especially for lithium-ion batteries. The overall consensus was that “It’s a no-brainer”. Researchers at JCESR noted how often they’ve encountered scientists who could produce very high-quality silicon anode materials on a lab scale, but who encountered difficulties in scaling to production levels. These same researchers expressed hope that recent government funding mechanisms that target scaling and manufacturing efforts in the electrification effort will ease the transition from lab scale to market scale.
Finally, and probably most importantly, there was much discussion about the research that needs to be done on “interfacial activity”. Given the complexity of batteries in general, and the lithium-ion battery in particular, there are many locations where materials of two different kinds come into contact with each other, thus creating an “interface”. For the proper functioning of a battery, ions need to move amongst these different interfaces and how they do so can be very complicated. Nearly every researcher that presented indicated how important it was to study the “interfacial activity”. In a lithium-ion battery, both the cathode AND the anode have such an interface layer. It is not enough to simply choose the best materials to build the electrodes, careful attention must be paid to the surfaces of these materials.
Our participation in JCESR was a tremendous learning and networking opportunity, which will continuing to propel the development and commercialization of our Endurion battery.