Renewable energy expert Deyang Qu was recently awarded a $1.25 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to fund research on high-energy, solid-state battery systems for electric vehicles.
In his project, Qu, the Johnson Controls Endowed Professor in Energy Storage Research (a collaborative appointment between UWM, Johnson Controls and UW-Madison), tackles the roadblock to improving energy storage in lithium-ion, or li-ion, batteries.
Li-ion batteries are used in electric cars, but one challenge keeping these vehicles from more widespread use is the battery’s limited energy storage capacity. Batteries with a greater storage capacity – or density – would allow the vehicles to travel longer between charging and charge quicker. Three scientist-pioneers involved in the development of li-ion batteries just won the Nobel Prize in chemistry for 2019.
Qu aims to take the technology to the next level by addressing the main obstacle to boosting energy density: dendrites, which are unwanted microscopic fibers that grow on lithium’s surface. Dendrites can also short-circuit the batteries, leading to fires or explosions.
Dendrites form on the anode part of the battery during charging and discharging, Qu said. His research will focus on creating a dynamic protection layer that will prevent this during battery cycling.
Qu said he is excited to play a part in addressing the problem of global warming. “Climate change and catastrophic weather have come in large part from vehicles burning fossil fuels,” he said. “If I can contribute to making a battery that lasts significantly longer, that would be like hitting a home run. This has become my passion.”
Qu leads the energy-storage research at UWM, where he worked with Johnson Controls (now Clarios) on batteries that supported the then-emerging start-stop technology, which reduces vehicle fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions by about 5%. In addition to li-ion battery research, he focuses on increasing the performance of lead-acid batteries, lithium-air and lithium-sulfur battery technologies for electric vehicles.