News Release

DOE awards UC San Diego nanoengineers $1.25M to improve batteries for EVs

Sept. 28, 2021-- The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has awarded $1.25 million to nanoengineers at the University of California San Diego to improve the electrolytes that carry ions in lithium-sulfur batteries. The researchers will partner with General Motors and Ampcera Inc, a solid-state battery materials and technology company. 

The grant is part of a $60 million investment by the DOE for 24 research and development projects aimed at reducing carbon dioxide emissions from passenger cars and light- and heavy-duty trucks. The projects will help decarbonize the transportation sector and enhance the infrastructure needed to support the growing adoption of zero-emission vehicles—crucial to reaching the Biden-Harris Administration’s ambitious goal of a net-zero emissions economy by 2050.  

“Fossil-fuel powered cars and trucks are a leading cause of air pollution and carbon emissions, and that is why we are focusing on decarbonizing the transportation sector to achieve President Biden’s climate goals,” said Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm. “Partnering with industry and leading research universities, DOE’s investment in these 24 projects will create technologies and techniques that will cut vehicle greenhouse emissions and boost America’s competitiveness in the global clean energy market.”  

The projects, funded through DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) Vehicles Technology Office (VTO), address the two largest contributors to transportation sector emissions: passenger cars and light-duty trucks account for nearly 60% of emissions and medium- and heavy-duty trucks account for nearly 25%.

Specifically, the UC San Diego team, led by Professor Shirley Meng, in the Department of NanoEngineering at the Jacobs School of Engineering, will investigate how to enable what is known as lean electrolytes in pouch lithium-sulfur batteries. These batteries typically require a high amount of electrolytes, which in turn lower the battery’s energy density. That is where lean electrolyte technology comes in to increase the energy density and lower the cost. 

The team proposes using a polymer made of macromolecules that is highly dense and redox active to reduce the amount of electrolyte needed. Using this material leads to a substantial reduction in porosity in the battery--the amount of space between molecules inside the device’s materials. “The high S loading and preliminary cycling performance presents a promising and practical pathway to achieve the energy density goal of 500Wh/kg,” the researchers write. 

In addition, the true nature of the lithium-sulfur reaction is still not fully understood, so researchers will need to develop new tools to provide qualitative and quantitative understanding to further improve the device performance. The researchers plan to enable sulfur imaging at the nanospace to investigate lithium and sulfur loss in the batteries. 

The team also plans to optimize the materials for scale-up and pouch cell prototyping, in collaboration with industry partners Ampcera and GM. 

The UC San Diego award is one of across 12 projects that will focus on developing next generation lithium batteries with improved lifespan, safety, and affordability, improving the performance and durability of electrolytes that carry ions within batteries, and increasing the power density of electric drive systems. These advancements would increase the useful life of EVs and enable more affordable, better performing vehicles.

Media Contacts

Ioana Patringenaru
Jacobs School of Engineering