Next gen batteries powered by Western-industry teamup

Paul Mayne//Western NewsWestern Engineering professor Andy Sun, left, led a tour of his labs last week for members of the Beijing-based China Automotive Battery Research Institute Co. Ltd. Created by a five-year, $3.35-million partnership, the Solid State Battery Research Joint Laboratory at Western will look into creating solid-state batteries for longer life and increased safety.

Western Engineering professor Andy Sun is ready to give his research – and the university – a charge with his latest partnership with a Beijing battery research company.

The China Automotive Battery Research Institute Co. Ltd. will invest $3.35 million in creating the Solid State Battery Research Joint Laboratory, located in Sun’s soon-to-be refurbished labs in Spencer and Thompson Engineering buildings. The five-year agreement begins Jan. 1, 2018.

Sun, a Canada Research Chair in Nanomaterials for Energy Conversion and Storage, is partnering with the Beijing-based company in hopes of solving critical and long-standing problems with battery longevity and safety by working towards solid-state batteries.

He hopes these “next generation” batteries will have significant impact on everything from cars to phones to laptops, moving from the current liquid to a solid-state electrolyte. Solid-state battery benefits include longer life and increased safety against potential fires, such as those that have been reported with some Samsung phones.

“The reason is the battery is using liquid electrolytes; that’s what’s causing the problem,” said Sun, who is also creating nanotechnologies and nanomaterials to develop fuel cells and lithium batteries better able to generate, store and conserve energy. “Where electric cars may now get 200 kilometres per charge, we can double that to 400. Where you now charge your cellphone every day, instead it could be once a week.”

The partnership will allow Sun to hire 10 new people for the joint lab, including research associates, postdoc fellows and other students.

“It’s a big focus all over the world,” Sun said, adding he recently returned from Washington, where he spoke as part of an energy panel. “This ‘next generation’ battery is a priority research direction for them and the solid-state part is key. I came from a conference in Japan and it’s a big focus for them, too. That’s why, for Canada, it needs to be important as well.”

Current battery electrolyte is sulfuric acid and water, where the solid-state battery has both solid electrodes and solid electrolytes. While they offer high-energy density, can be made extremely small, and have no problem with electrolyte leakage, some still see solid-state electrolytes as limited by the poor conductance of such materials.

However, Baiqing Xiong, President of the China Automotive Battery Research Institute, is confident in the work of Sun and his team at Western.

“When it comes to research in this field, Western is the top as far as credibility,” said Xiong, who traveled to Western this past week to meet with Sun and his team. “The advantage of Western is they have a very good base of research already. They have the fundamentals and capability to bring this research to application and we want to work together with them and take advantage of that knowledge. It’s all about collaboration and we have strong confidence in their research.”

Sun said the first three years of the agreement will be lab-based, with the last two years focusing on the application of the research.

“This is the future direction with batteries and I am really excited to be working on this and truly making a contribution in this field,” Sun said.