Go Green

The road to cheaper electric vehicles

Like many of us, Koffi Pierre Yao cannot afford his dream vehicle, the all-electric Tesla Roadster, which runs about $200,000. But unlike many of us, Yao has the facility to try to something about it. No, he said, he doesn’t intend on earning extra money — he plans on making the car cheaper.

As a professor of engineering at the University of Delaware, Yao is functioning on the event of a next-generation battery which will power our electric devices longer and, potentially, makes them cheaper and accessible. This work, funded by a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Vehicle Technologies Research program, could revolutionize the energy industry as we all know it.

“If we will make this happen, it’ll be a paradigm shift,” said Yao, an alumnus of UD’s McNair Scholars Program. “We’ll be taking a game-changing step.”

It couldn’t be happening at a far better time. The U.S. transportation sector produces nearly 30 per cent of the country’s greenhouse emission emissions, meaning electric vehicles, if widely adopted, could slow the pace of global climate change.

So… what is the plan?

To understand that, you initially need to grasp the inner workings of a lithium-ion battery, the rechargeable kind you will find during a telephone, laptop or, yes, electric vehicle. These batteries do their job by converting chemical reactions into electricity and, so as to figure this magic, they’re each built with two electrodes — aka energy carriers. one among these carriers, called an anode, is usually made from graphite. What Yao and his team are trying is an anode made rather than silicon, which may store and deliver the maximum amount as 10 times the energy. Imagine 350 watt-hours per kilogram, versus current, state-of-the-art options offering 200 watt-hours per kilogram.

Translation: With this innovation, your telephone would last beyond each day on one charge and, once you think about all the engineering details, your electric vehicle would be ready to travel two or even 3 times space before wanting to be recharged. Because such A battery would be lighter, it might even be considerably cheaper. (No one can say yet exactly what proportion cheaper — which will require a techno-economic analysis.)

But there is a catch. Or, as Yao put it: “Everything good comes with a caveat.”

The problem with silicon is that, as a result of storing such a lot of energy, it grows in volume as you cycle the battery. Whereas a graphite anode expands by a mere 10% at the most, silicon expands a whopping 350% — and everyone this expansion degrades the fabric. In other words, 50 to 100 charges in, your battery bites the dust.

Yao said he believes the answer lies during a film that forms on the surface of the anode in most lithium-ion batteries. If he can create a new-and-improved iteration of this film, one that permits for expansion while protecting against degradation, he will have solved the matter.

“In layman’s terms, this film is going to be plastic,” Yao said. “It is going to be elastomeric, meaning it’ll stretch sort of an elastic band .”

While it’d sound simple in theory, the work is going to be a touch more James Bond-esque actually — it’ll require an electrochemical process involving custom synthesis reactors for conducting chemical reactions which will form the engineered film. it’ll also involve a team of experts, including Ajay Prasad, chair of the Department of engineering and former director of UD’s Center for Fuel Cells and Batteries; Thomas H. Epps, III, the Thomas and Kipp Gutshall Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and therefore the director of UD’s Center for Research in Soft Matter and Polymers; and three graduate students — Rownak Jahan Mou, Gbenga Taiwo and Shane Nicholas Shearman. At the top of this partnership, if all goes to plan, the result is going to be a lithium-ion battery that lasts for 10 years or 1,000 charging cycles.

“This may be a really exciting opportunity,” said Mou, a doctoral candidate within the Department of engineering. “If we are successful with the silicon coating, this might open the door for still other materials to use, and even more battery options.”

This kind of innovative collaboration is one among the explanations Yao said he was drawn back to UD after earning his doctorate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and doing postdoctoral work on the Argonne National Laboratory outside Chicago. the opposite reason? That’s tough to define.

“It’s a private thing — a sense — that’s hard to precise,” he said. “The University of Delaware is simply the place on behalf of me. Something pulled me back here.”

Yes, he added, you’ll call it energy.

Just not the type which will run out of charge any time soon.

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