Improved technologies for storing electricity are crucial for many facets of energy use ranging from better batteries for mobile devices and electric cars to large-scale power buffers for greatly expanded use of wind and solar resources on the electric grid. 

The performance of existing energy storage systems is constrained because of difficult trade-offs forced by the limitations of existing materials and designs. For example, efforts to increase energy density to provide greater driving range for battery electric cars create risks of material degradation during fast charging. However, fast charging is important both for consumer convenience and for expanding the scope of electric vehicle use, particularly for heavy-duty applications. 

The lithium-ion batteries that represent today’s state of the art often rely on materials that face issues of cost as well as environmental concerns and human rights abuses related to where they are sourced. Addressing these challenges requires making it easier to recycle critical materials as well as creating high-performance batteries using abundant materials that can be obtained more widely. 

University of Michigan energy researchers are working to overcome these challenges through a multi-pronged approach that enhances the capability of batteries that use established materials; discovers improved materials mechanisms for energy storage; redesigns batteries for a circular economy with high levels of reuse for critical materials; and pursues breakthroughs to enable the use of earth-abundant materials such as sodium. 

This work is highlighted in recent advances including: 

  • An innovative laser-patterning process for producing three-dimensional graphite anode architectures that can enable highly efficient fast-charging of lithium-ion batteries, done through a collaboration among UMEI faculty affiliates Katsuyo Thornton, Jeff Sakamoto and Neil Dasgupta along with their students and colleagues. 
  • Advances in the use of Electrochemical Impedance Spectroscopy (EIS) to more effectively probe the intrinsic properties of materials used for lithium-ion battery cathodes and other energy applications, led by UMEI faculty affiliate Katsuyo Thornton
  • New insights into how to craft composite electrodes suitable for making solid-state batteries, obtained through sophisticated analysis of the material stresses that ultimately cause their degradation by UMEI faculty affiliates Jeff Sakamoto, Katsuyo Thornton and colleagues. 

These items are just a small sample of work that draws on the deep bench of expertise among UMEI faculty affiliates who are advancing progress in materials science and engineering for energy applications. A wide range of creative collaborations are underway among U-M leaders in solid-state electrolytes, the engineering of material interfaces, in situ electrochemistry, atomistic and multi-physics modeling, electro- and thermo-chemical characterization, materials synthesis, nano-scale fabrication, electrochemical architecture and related specializations.