Between the effects of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the climate crisis affecting the U.S. and the international community, there is a major federal push towards more ecologically friendly energy sources. The Inflation Reduction Act that was signed into law last month offers several tax credits to consumers to further incentivize buying electric vehicles (EVs) and having more charging stations. However, this requires manufacturers to tackle the problems with electric vehicle batteries. Electric vehicle batteries are known to be expensive, have limited driving range, and in some cases burst into flames. These issues make consumers hesitant to switch from gasoline vehicles to electric even if they wish to purchase electric vehicles.
So in order to address these concerns The University of Michigan will be leading multiple research projects alongside eight other research institutions across the country to further enhance understanding and development of advanced batteries as well as fuel cells for electric vehicles. The $11 million funding from a four-year grant by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) establishes a DOE Energy Frontier Research Center at the University of Michigan called the Mechano-chemical Understanding of Solid Ion Conductors (MUSIC). This energy research center allows engineers and scientists to explore the use of ceramic ion conductors in solid-state batteries.
The hope is that these ceramic ion conductors can be used as replacements for the traditional liquid or polymer electrolytes in common lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles that are heat-sensitive and prone to catch fire if the temperature is not properly controlled. Deputy director of MUSIC and associate professor of mechanical engineering at University of Michigan Neil Dasgupta told The Detroit News: “By replacing this kind of flammable component, we could potentially reduce the risk of fires, which is a really critical safety challenge.”
The article mentions one potential benefit of this research is no longer needing heavy expensive cooling systems, lightening the load an electric vehicle needs to carry and allowing a single charge of the vehicle to last longer. Jeff Sakamoto, professor of mechanical engineering at University of Michigan and director of MUSIC, states: “The recent discovery of ceramic ion conductors that simultaneously exhibit unprecedented performance and stability has the potential to change the electrochemical energy storage technology landscape.”
Dasgupta hopes that their scientific work will ease some of the barriers facing widespread commercialization of electric vehicles in the short term and have even more transformative potential in the long term.