Dept. of Energy awards over $30 million in battery research grants

A $45 million package of Department of Energy grants supporting advanced vehicle technologies included $22.5 million for advanced battery research, and another $8 million for power electronics research. The grants aim to cut battery size and weight in half, allow semiconductors to operate more efficiently and at higher temperature, give greater durability, reliability, and lower cost. Another two projects, for $4 million, will cover heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems for electric cars that reduce energy consumption. Together the advances would reduce plug-in hybrid and electric car prices (MSRP).

A key factor in getting widespread plug-in hybrid or electric car adoption is to reduce vehicle cost. These cars already have much lower operational cost because electricity is a more cost-efficient fuel than gasoline or diesel. Reducing the sticker price would change a lot of minds towards purchasing an electrified vehicle.

Cell chemistry advances

There are six research projects for aimed at either high energy density, or high energy battery research. Improved energy density will allow automakers to either offer the same kilowatt-hour capacity in a smaller battery, or offer more kilowatt-hour capacity in the same battery size. Either way the customer is going to get more bang for the buck.

  • Argonne National Lab: $2.5 million for a new high energy electrochemical couple for automotive applications that meets or exceeds energy requirements for electric drive vehicles.
  • Farasis Energy: $2.7 million for high energy density lithium-ion cells for electric vehicles based on high voltage manganese-rich cathode material.
  • Envia Systems: $3 million for high-energy lithium batteries for plug-in electric vehicles.
  • TIAX LLC: $1.7 million for high-energy lithium batteries that couples a high-energy high-power cathode material, silicon-based anode material, and a separator capable of supporting high current density. Pennsylvania State University: $2.9 million for high energy, long cycle life lithium-ion batteries consisting of a micro-sized porous silicon alloy-carbon composite anode coupled with a high performance Ni-rich layered oxide cathode coated with an ultrastable LiFePO4 coating.
  • 3M Company: $3 million for a high energy electrochemical couple that couples a high capacity core shell cathode, advanced electrolyte, and advanced stable silicon alloy composite anode with a novel conductive polymer binder.

Computer aided engineering

Four projects to aid designing EV batteries that can withstand abusive conditions. As much as the Chevy Volt fire in 2011 was over-hyped political theater, thermal runaway is a real risk that will be eliminated through engineering effort.

  • NREL: $1 million for computer-aided design tools to characterize the coupled mechanical and electrochemical response of lithium-ion batteries to abuse conditions in cells.
  • EC Power: $1 million for design tools to characterize the coupled mechanical and electrochemical response of lithium-ion batteries to abuse conditions in cells.
  • Sandia National Labs: $1.5 million for computer-aided tools to predict and understand the implications of thermal runaway of lithium-ion batteries.
  • NREL: $717k to develop a computational methodology to significantly improve the computational efficiency of nonlinear multiscale battery modeling.

Electrolytes and battery chemistry

Three projects are focusing on batteries that can operate at higher temperatures would be a welcome relief to the Nissan Leaf owners suffering from premature battery capacity loss, and also reduce vehicle cost by reducing the need for active cooling systems.

  • Daikin America: $912k for advanced high performance electrolytes, based on fluorochemistries that allow batteries to operate at a higher voltage and temperature.
  • Argonne National Lab: $360k for a new generation electrolyte system with outstanding stabilities at high voltage and high temperature, and with improved safety.
  • Wildcat Discovery Technologies: $1 million for non-carbonate based electrolytes for silicon anodes, enabling substantial improvements in energy density and cost relative to current lithium-ion batteries.

High temperature high power capacitors

Three projects are focusing on increasing the efficiency of drive train components, while lowering their cost.

  • Sigma Technologies: $2.4 million for reducing the cost, size, and weight of high temperature capacitors for power electronics while increasing durability.
  • Argonne National Lab: $1.8 million for an efficient, cost-effective process to produce advanced high-temperature capacitors for power inverters in electric drive vehicles.
  • General Electric: $1.7 million for high performance DC link film capacitors for electric drive vehicle systems.

Wide band-gap inverters

One project is focused on enabling EV battery pack systems that run at higher voltage.

  • Arkansas Power Electronics: $2 million for demonstrating advanced wide bandgap inverters for under-the-hood electric vehicle traction drives.

Heating and cooling systems

Two projects focus on increasing driving range by requiring less energy for passenger comfort:

  • Delphi Automotive: $1.7 million for a phase change heating system for vehicles and demonstrate a significant reduction in energy consumption.
  • Halia Visteon Climate Control: $2.3 million for an efficient heating and cooling (heat pump) system.

No one of these projects is a silver bullet that will instantly solve the issue of electric vehicle cost. However, each group of projects addresses an “area of interest” that is thought will improve plug-in vehicle acceptance.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

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