US Dept of Energy funding electric vehicle and battery research

The Trump Administration has been taking all kinds of actions to undermine environmental regulations, coddle polluters, and support fossil fuels, but at the same time the Administration continues to fund research into clean energy technologies. In January, the Dept of Energy announced a funding opportunity for up to $133 million to support a range of research including electric vehicle drive trains, and batteries for both EV’s and stationary storage applications. Let’s celebrate that the Trump Administration is still supporting this sort of work.

I don’t know whether the US Dept of Energy has decreased clean, renewable, energy related research funding, or whether funding levels have stayed the same. What I do know, being subscribed to receive these announcements, is that under the Trump Administration, there continues to be similar announcements.

That the Trump Administration continues to fund research into electric vehicles and other clean energy technologies demonstrates the Trump Administration has not taken a position supporting only fossil fuels.

DE-FOA-0002197: FY20 ADVANCED VEHICLE TECHNOLOGIES RESEARCH FUNDING OPPORTUNITY ANNOUNCEMENT – was announced in January and includes these areas of research:

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Batteries and Electrification (up to $40 million)

  • Lithium-ion batteries using silicon- based anodes
  • Low cost electric traction drive systems using no heavy rare earth materials utility managed smart charging supporting projects that will demonstrate managed and controlled charging loads for a large number of vehicles.

Advanced Combustion Engines and Fuels (up to $27.5 million)

  • Platinum group metals content reduction to enable cost-effective after-treatment for gasoline and diesel engines
  • Improved efficiency of medium- and heavy-duty natural gas and propane (LPG) engines
  • Energy-efficient off-road technologies directly applicable to agriculture sector and/or other off-road vehicles
  • Two-stroke, opposed-piston engine research and development

Materials Technology (up to $15 million)

  • Lightweight and high-performance fiber-reinforced polymer composites for vehicle applications

Energy Efficient Mobility Systems (up to $13.5 million)

  • Improving transportation system efficiency through better utilization
  • Enabling vehicle and infrastructure connectivity
  • Improving mobility, affordability, and energy efficiency through transit

Technology Integration (up to $36 million)

  • Gaseous fuels technology demonstration projects
  • Alternative fuel proof-of-concept in new communities and fleets
  • Electric vehicle and charging community partner projects
  • Technology integration open topic

Transportation and Energy Analysis (up to $1.2 million)

While the research topics in this funding opportunity involve several items related to fossil fuel consumption, a significant portion is focused on electric vehicles.

The funding announcement came along with a paper describing more carefully what the Dept of Energy is looking to fund.

What follows is a summary of some of the projects.

Sulfur Anodes in batteries

The paper says today’s lithium-ion batteries use graphite anodes, and have approximately 350 aAh/gram of energy storage capability. That’s good, but researchers have their sites on a major boost by using Sulfur. The resulting battery will still have lithium, so would be called Li-Sulfur.

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Silicon, a potential next-generation anode material, exhibits low operational voltage and can theoretically store >3500 mAh/g; an order of magnitude greater than that of graphite. Unfortunately, wide-spread adoption of silicon-based anodes is hindered by non-favorable chemical reactions between the electrolyte solution and the reducing environment of the low potential intermetallic alloy. These unfavorable reactions result in unacceptable calendar life for automotive applications and are exacerbated by the large volume change experienced upon lithiation and delithiation of silicon.

A strategy to improve the energy density of automotive lithium ion cells is to mix a small fraction, typically < 5-10%, of silicon in a composite electrode with the majority of the active material being graphite. While this increases the specific energy of the cell, it has negative effects on both calendar and cycle life.

This AOI aims to eliminate these drawbacks while increasing the silicon component in composite electrodes to at least 30% with a preference towards electrodes with the majority (70-100%) of the anode being silicon. Successful technology approaches that enable the use of increased silicon content will enable increased battery energy density and ultimately lower battery cost.

EV traction drives using no rare earth metals

It would be a shame to replace a dependency on the Middle East for crude oil with a dependency on China for rare earth metals.

However the funding announcement only discusses the cost of certain rare earth metals, and seeking to decrease that cost:

The majority of production Electric Traction Drive Systems (ETDS) use permanent magnet (PM) motors which contain NdFeB magnets. These magnets account for 20 to 30 percent of the total electric motor costs in today’s production systems. This is in large part due to the high prices of heavy rare-earth elements (e.g. dysprosium) which are needed to prevent demagnetization at high temperatures. While the heavy rare-earth prices have reduced over the past several years, there is still significant potential for price volatility along with significant dependency on these critical materials across the on-road electric drive sector. Alternatives that reduce or eliminate the impact of these critical materials can have
a substantial positive impact on electric vehicle deployment.

Smart charging systems, to time-shift charging sessions

The concern here is the load on the electricity grid from electric car charging. There are dozens of similar load concerns, like pool pumps, air conditioning systems, commercial refrigeration systems, and the like.

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There is an effort in the electricity industry to implement a distributed control system so that electricity consumption and production can be time-shifted and intelligently distributed. I wrote about this overall plan a couple years ago.

In this topic area the Dept of Energy is funding research into distributed time-shifting of electric car charging to match conditions on the electricity grid:

As the U.S. Transportation Sector rapidly approaches a large number of Plug-in Electric Vehicles (PEV) connecting to the electricity grid to recharge, addressing the need to manage the charging load is becoming more important. If completely unmanaged, PEVs plugging into the grid to recharge when people return home or fleet PEVs return to their business at the end of the day could create additional evening peak loads that utilities would have to meet. Simple management techniques could be
employed to shift these loads to later in the night when electricity demand is lower, while still meeting the need of the PEV owners to have their vehicles fully recharged. Smart Charge Management (SCM) can not only shift these loads to more desirable times for the grid, but can be used to provide grid services such as peak load shaving, demand charge mitigation, voltage support, frequency support, and renewable generation integration, to name a few. These grid services can not only provide benefit to the grid operator, but also to the PEV owner and charging network operator through lower or more predictable charging cost.

While current projects resulted in tools and platforms that overcame many of the barriers associated with SCM for a large number of PEVs connected to electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE) either at individual charging locations or congregated charging locations across a large distribution network, further work is needed to optimize and deploy these or similar SCM systems.

Fiber-reinforced polymer composites for vehicle applications

This topic area is about lightweighting, or reducing the weight (and therefore energy consumption) of vehicles without reducing other attributes of the vehicle. Reducing energy consumption in any way it’s accomplished means fewer resources are required to operate the vehicle fleet. It doesn’t matter what that energy is. Reducing gasoline consumption means fewer atrocities committed to the planet in the name of crude oil extraction, and reducing electricity consumption means less electricity generation (often coal based) required.

High-performance lightweight materials currently used in automotive industry include advanced highstrength steels, aluminum alloys, magnesium alloys, and carbon fiber-reinforced polymer composites (CFRP). Of the four types of lightweight materials, CFRP have the potential to provide the most significant weight savings (up to 60-70%), while providing high specific strength, high specific stiffness, and excellent chemical/corrosion resistance which are important in a vehicle operational environment. However, the high cost of CFRP precludes adoption across the automotive industry. Enabling the use of lightweight materials across the automotive industry through the development of novel materials, composite preforms and intermediates, manufacturing processes, and components for high-volume, high-performance, and affordable polymer composite vehicle applications is a key enabler for increasing fuel economy and reducing the environmental impact of vehicles.

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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