Balbuena and Seminario awarded DOE grant for battery study

 Balbuena Seminario

In July, the Department of Energy (DOE) announced a new $19.4 million investment in advanced vehicle technologies. The program includes Phase I of “Battery Seeding” projects, 15 projects aimed at innovative research in battery materials and approaches that complement the Vehicle Technologies Office (VTO) Battery500 Consortium's multi-institutional research. This effort aims to more than double the specific energy, to 500 watt-hours per kilogram, of lithium-sulfur battery technologies. Ultimately, the goal of this research, and of the batteries, charging and electric vehicles segment of the VTO, is aimed at creating smaller, safer, lighter weight and less expensive battery packs to make electric vehicles more affordable. 

Two faculty members in the Artie McFerrin Department of Chemical Engineering at Texas A&M University, Dr. Perla Balbuena, holder of the GPSA Professorship, and Dr. Jorge Seminario, holder of the Lanatter & Herbert Fox Professorship, were awarded a $400,000 grant for 18 months to study the development of advanced solid electrolyte technology for lithium-sulfur batteries. In this work, set to begin in October, Balbuena and Seminario will use atomistic methods to identify and characterize solid electrolyte materials. The materials selected will be analyzed computationally, and will then be synthesized and tested at DOE national laboratory facilities. Further integrated computational and experimental tests will be used to fully address interfacial issues.

“One of the key issues with lithium-sulfur batteries is associated with the extreme reactivity of the lithium metal in contact with liquid electrolytes,” Balbuena said. “It is expected that the use of well-designed solid electrolytes will allow lithium ions to diffuse through the solids in a more controlled way.”

The design also requires a smooth interfacial contact with the metal surface and low reactivity. In addition, the electrolyte must also provide a stable interface to the sulfur electrode, where additional challenges exist and will be addressed. 

The electrolyte composition and properties are essential for overall improved battery performance. This research demonstrates the progress in computational techniques, which are able to provide reliable characterizations and designs for advanced battery technologies.

In 2016, a team led by Balbuena, which also included Seminario and Dr. Partha Mukherjee, assistant professor and Morris E. Foster Faculty Fellow II in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Texas A&M, was awarded a $1.2 million DOE grant to study and model battery reactions