News Release

UC San Diego nanoengineers receive $2.7M NSF grant to make battery manufacturing waste-free

September 1, 2021 -- A team led by nanoengineers at the University of California San Diego has been awarded a $2.7 million grant from the National Science Foundation to develop an eco-friendly and low-cost manufacturing process for sodium all-solid-state batteries. The process will be used to create large-scale energy storage systems—for buildings, electric grids, and wind and solar farms—that are more efficient, affordable and safe.

“In order for our society to shift to more renewable energy sources, we need technology that will enable rechargeable batteries with high safety, low cost, long life and high resilience to environmental changes,” said Zheng Chen, a professor of nanoengineering at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering and the project’s lead investigator.

“Today’s lithium-ion batteries can no longer meet these requirements because of the safety issues associated with flammable liquid electrolytes and scaling challenges for critical materials—cobalt, nickel and lithium—that are typically used for making them. So we are working to improve the production of a promising alternative: sodium all-solid-state batteries.”

The goal of the project is to help transform sodium all-solid-state battery manufacturing into an efficient and eco-friendly process. These batteries are of great interest to scientists because they are made using low-cost transition metals such as chromium, manganese and iron. This overcomes the critical materials limitation facing lithium-ion batteries. In addition, the all-solid-state architecture is intrinsically safer and can employ multi-layer stacking to achieve higher system-level energy densities. These features make the batteries desirable for emerging large-scale storage applications.

To improve today’s sodium all-solid-state battery manufacturing processes, Chen and colleagues will develop a dry fabrication technology that eliminates the use of caustic organic solvents. The technology will also recycle materials from used batteries to create new battery materials—specifically electrodes and solid-state electrolytes—that perform the same as the originals. The result will be a process that is closed-loop, high-precision and high-yield.

“This project assembles expertise in chemical engineering, nanoengineering, chemistry, materials science, life-cycle analysis/technoeconomic analysis, machine learning and data science, as well as collaborators in community colleges and industry to develop new fabrication processes, advanced materials and new battery protypes that can potentially be used for a wide range of large-scale storage systems,” said Chen, who is also a faculty member of the Sustainable Power and Energy Center at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering.

The research team includes UC San Diego nanoengineering professors Ying Shirley Meng, Andrea Tao and Shyue Ping Ong, who are all faculty members of the university’s Sustainable Power and Energy Center and Institute for Materials Discovery and Design, and Elsa Olivetti, a professor of materials science and engineering at MIT.

Media Contacts

Liezel Labios
Jacobs School of Engineering