New investment sparks next-gen battery research

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Western Engineering professor Andy Sun likes to get right to the point.

“I am confident to say that Western should be No. 1 in five years for research in the field of solid-state batteries – among the top in the world,” said the Canada Research Chair in Nanomaterials for Energy Conversion and Storage. “Not only for fundamental research innovation, but also for the fabrication of solid-state batteries in Canada.”

On Wednesday, Sun welcomed to campus members of the China Automotive Battery Research Institute Co. Ltd (CABRI), including its president, Baiqing Xiong, to celebrate the opening of GLABAT Solid-State Battery Inc., located in the Western Research Park.

The company was born out a 2017 collaboration between Sun and CABRI, who initially invested $3.35 million to create the Solid State Battery Research Joint Laboratory, located in Sun’s labs in the Spencer and Thompson Engineering buildings. The five-year agreement began Jan. 1, 2018 – with its first three years dedicated to lab-based discovery and the last two years focused on application of the research.

The creation of GLABAT brings an additional $10 million investment by CABRI.

“This will be the incubator of new technologies and products to contribute to the future electrical vehicle,” Xiong said. “I want to thank Western and the City of London for their support as we transform research results from the lab to practical battery prototypes.”

This partnership has helped charge Sun’s work that looks to solve problems with battery longevity and safety by working toward solid-state batteries.

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. Sun is looking to change that.

“We’re looking to develop a new generation battery with a longer and faster charge,” Sun said, noting current electric vehicles tend to use organic, liquid-based electrolyte which can be flammable. “If we replace this with solid-state batteries, it solves a safety issue and we can double the driving distance.”

Sun and his team have already applied for 11 patents and published more than 30 scientific articles on the subject.

“Andy (Sun) has been the mastermind behind all of this,” Western President Amit Chakma said. “Universities are all about people and ideas; Andy symbolizes that. Without his ideas, we would not be here. The exciting things we are doing is because of his intellectual capacity, his ideas, his initiatives, and his drive.”

Germany, Norway and Netherlands have announced they will phase out gas and diesel vehicles by 2030. France and the U.K. are aiming for 2040. Sun said where electric cars may now get 200 kilometres per charge, he feels that can be doubled, if not longer.

He also hopes these next-generation batteries will have significant impact not just for vehicles, but for everyday items such as phones and laptops.

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