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New lab advances lithium battery market readiness

PULLMAN, Wash. – A group of Washington State University researchers has received support from the Washington Research Foundation to equip a battery manufacturing laboratory for building and testing new lithium battery materials in commercial sizes.

“There is a lot of interest in this work,’’ said Grant Norton, professor in the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering. “The new laboratory allows us to scale up our research to work that is commercially relevant.’’

Led by Norton, the researchers have developed a lithium-ion battery technology that uses nanostructured tin rather than a traditional, carbon-based anode. The technology could triple battery capacity. It allows batteries to recharge many more times and more quickly than current generation batteries.

WSU has filed several patents on the technology, and Norton’s group has developed and tested button-sized versions of the batteries. The new lab equipment will allow the researchers to scale up to commercial-sized test batteries, such as AA and D cells.

Another group of researchers, led by Katie Zhong, professor in the school, also will use the equipment. Zhong’s group is working to develop solid lithium battery electrolytes. This includes a bio-based solid electrolyte made out of environmentally friendly soy protein and a gum-like electrolyte with thermal protection capabilities.

Electrolytes are the part of the battery that allows for the movement of lithium ions between the anode and the cathode to create electricity. Usually, electrolytes are liquid acid solutions, which can leak and create a fire or chemical burn hazard. Zhong’s electrolytes are solid and lighter weight. They would make next-generation lithium batteries lighter, safer and more environmentally friendly than batteries using today’s technology.

The research groups also are working together to combine their technologies into safer, flexible low-cost batteries.

“This investment by the Washington Research Foundation provides important support for this promising research,’’ said Candis Claiborn, dean of the College of Engineering and Architecture (CEA). “We look forward to seeing its future impact as these innovations help to grow our state and regional economy.’’

According to its website, the Washington Research Foundation supports groundbreaking research in the life sciences, information technology and physical sciences and is recognized worldwide as a leading technology transfer organization. Norton has previously received support for his battery research from the CEA’s emerging technology fund, which is funded by private donations. Zhong and Norton were also supported by the WSU Office of Research.


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