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New Li-Ion Batteries May Last Three Times Longer Than Current Technology

Pat Waurzyniak
By Patrick Waurzyniak Contributing Editor, SME Media

A team of researchers at the University of Texas (UT; Austin, TX) has developed what may be a breakthrough in lithium-ion (li-ion) battery technology for portable devices. Led by 94-year-old John Goodenough, professor in the university’s Cockrell School of Engineering and co-inventor of the lithium-ion battery, the engineering team created the first all-solid-state battery cells that could lead to making safer, faster-charging, longer-lasting rechargeable batteries for hand-held mobile devices, electric cars and stationary energy storage.

Goodenough’s latest breakthrough, completed with Cockrell School senior research fellow Maria Helena Braga, is a low-cost all-solid-state battery that is said to be noncombustible and has a long cycle life (battery life) with a high volumetric energy density and fast rates of charge and discharge. The research engineers describe their new technology in a recent paper published in the journal Energy & Environmental Science. An abstract of the paper is available at http://tinyurl.com/zmqu4ya.

“Cost, safety, energy density, rates of charge and discharge and cycle life are critical for battery-driven cars to be more widely adopted,” Goodenough said in a statement. “We believe our discovery solves many of the problems that are inherent in today’s batteries.”

The UT researchers demonstrated that their new battery cells have at least three times as much energy density as today’s li-ion batteries. A battery cell’s energy density gives an electric vehicle its driving range, the researchers said, so a higher density means that a car can drive more miles between charges. The UT  battery formulation also allows for a greater number of charging and discharging cycles, which equates to longer-lasting batteries, as well as a faster rate of recharge (minutes rather than hours).

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John Goodenough in his lab

Today’s lithium-ion batteries use liquid electrolytes to transport the lithium ions between the anode (the negative side of the battery) and the cathode (the positive side). If a battery cell is charged too quickly, it can cause dendrites or “metal whiskers” to form and cross through the liquid electrolytes, the researchers noted, causing a short circuit that can lead to explosions and fires. Instead of liquid electrolytes, the researchers rely on glass electrolytes that enable the use of an alkali-metal anode without the formation of dendrites.

The use of an alkali-metal anode (lithium, sodium or potassium)—which isn’t possible with conventional batteries—increases the energy density of a cathode and delivers a long cycle life. In experiments, the researchers’ cells have demonstrated more than 1200 cycles with low cell resistance. Additionally, because the solid-glass electrolytes can operate, or have high conductivity, at -20°C, this type of battery in a car could perform well in subzero weather, the researchers said, noting this is the first all-solid-state battery cell that can operate under 60°C.

Braga began developing solid-glass electrolytes with colleagues while she was at Portugal’s University of Porto. About two years ago, she began collaborating with Goodenough and researcher Andrew J. Murchison at UT. Braga said that Goodenough brought an understanding of the composition and properties of the solid-glass electrolytes that resulted in a new version of the electrolytes that is now patented through the UT Austin Office of Technology Commercialization.

The engineers’ glass electrolytes allow them to plate and strip alkali metals on both the cathode and the anode side without dendrites, which simplifies battery cell fabrication. Another advantage is that the battery cells can be made from earth-friendly materials.

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Maria Helena Braga

“The glass electrolytes allow for the substitution of low-cost sodium for lithium. Sodium is extracted from seawater that is widely available,” Braga said. Goodenough and Braga are continuing to advance their battery-related research and are working on several patents. In the short term, they hope to work with battery makers to develop and test their new materials in electric vehicles and energy storage devices.

This research is supported by UT Austin, but there are no grants associated with this work. The university’s Office of Technology Commercialization is actively negotiating license agreements with multiple companies engaged in a variety of battery-related industry segments.

Patented Inkjet System Can Literally Ink a Jet

The Southwest Research Institute (San Antonio, TX; SwRI) has secured a patent for a technology for a large-scale robotic inkjet printing system for painting aircraft and other complex surfaces. The disruptive system enables robotic printing on large complex surfaces, including aircraft.

“As aircraft decorative coatings have become increasingly complex, the aircraft manufacturing and maintenance communities are seeking more efficient ways to apply complex graphics,” said Clay Flannigan, who leads SwRI’s robotics and automation engineering activities. “There is a lot of interest in using inkjet technologies applied to aircraft painting, but to fully leverage the potential efficiency and aesthetic advantages of process, the technology must be able to print on a variety of complex geometries and in varied orientations over large areas.”

Inkjet printing provides superior performance compared to decals or appliqués, which are difficult to qualify due to adhesion and robustness issues over the wide range of speeds and environmental conditions in which aircraft operate, Flannigan added.

Also known as direct printing, this inkjet painting process is a disruptive technology that allows for digital printing of complex graphics on everything from textiles to outdoor billboards, the company said. For the aviation industry, the SwRI-developed system can replace traditional, labor-intensive painting techniques to apply large graphics to aircraft fuselages, wings, tail fins, and engine nacelles.

US Patent No. 9,527,275, for “High Accuracy Inkjet Printing,” covers hardware and software for precise application of multiple graphic swaths of color ink onto complex surfaces, creating a continuous graphic image, according to SwRI. Each pass of color, or graphic swath, can be aligned over curved surfaces without spaces, gaps, or discontinuities.

A vision sensor detects an encoded pattern to ensure accurate application of graphic images. The encoded pattern is deposited on the surface in a known location with respect to the most recently deposited graphic swath. The printing system includes high-bandwidth servo actuators to locate the print head with respect to the encoder pattern to permit precise positioning for the next swath.

The new technique is an internally funded outgrowth of SwRI’s earlier work on the laser coating removal (LCR) technology. That system combines a mobile robotic platform, laser scanning technology and high-powered lasers for safe and efficient removal of paint and other aircraft coatings.

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New robotic inkjet printing system from Southwest Research Institute easily paints color graphics on large complex surfaces like aircraft.

The inkjet development required SwRI to overcome obstacles associated with the large, complex surfaces to be painted, as well as the need to adjust for inaccuracies in robot positioning and vibration of robot structures.

“We have been developing new processes for removing paint from aircraft for nearly three decades. Now we are looking to revolutionize the way decorative finishes are applied to aircraft,” Flannigan said.

SwRI has more than 25 years of experience developing and supporting large robotic systems to remove coatings from aircraft and aerospace components. An independent, nonprofit, applied research and development organization, SwRI has nearly 2700 employees and an annual research volume of $559 million. In 2017 the company will mark 70 years of experience offering R&D to the government and industry.

Amazon, Google, Microsoft Join NSF’s Big Data Program

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has announced the participation of cloud providers including Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google, and Microsoft, in its flagship Big Data research program, Critical Techniques, Technologies and Methodologies for Advancing Foundations and Applications of Big Data Sciences and Engineering. AWS, Google, and Microsoft will provide cloud credits/resources to qualifying NSF-funded projects, enabling researchers to obtain access to state-of-the-art cloud resources.

NSF’s Big Data program involves multiple directorates at NSF, as well as the Office of Financial Research (OFR), and anticipates funding up to $26.5 million, subject to availability of funds, in fiscal year 2017. In addition, AWS, Google and Microsoft will provide up to $9 million (up to $3 million each) in the form of cloud credits/resources for projects funded through this solicitation.

This collaboration combines NSF’s experience in developing and managing successful large, diverse research portfolios with the cloud providers’ proven track records in state-of-the-art, on-demand, cloud computing. It also builds upon the shared interests of NSF and the cloud providers to accelerate progress in research and innovation in big data and data science—pivotal areas that are expected to result in tremendous growth for the US economy.

The program encourages experimentation with real datasets; demonstration of the scalability of approaches; and development of evaluation plans that include evaluation of scalability and performance among competing methods on benchmark datasets—all of which will require significant storage, computing, and networking resources, which can be provided by the cloud vendors through their participation.

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