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Researchers Contemplate Solid Materials for Improving Lithium Ion Battery Performance

Like people who drive gas-powered cars, those who drive electric vehicles are always on the lookout for where they can get their next “fill up.” Or, in their case, battery charge.

Jeff Sakamoto, associate professor of chemical engineering and materials science, holds a new ceramic for solid lithium ion batteries. Photo by G.L. Kohuth.

This so-called “range anxiety” could someday be eased a bit thanks to a team of Michigan State University researchers.

In the lab of Jeff Sakamoto, an associate professor of chemical engineering and materials science, he and his team are looking to improve upon the lithium ion battery, a rechargeable battery that works well in hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles, but still needs improvement for all-electric vehicles.

The challenge facing the researchers is daunting: They want to make the battery last longer, less expensive and safer.

“We’re working to create the next generation of batteries for electric vehicles,” Sakamoto said. “If you want to eliminate range anxiety and sticker shock, you must have a battery that stores a lot more energy – four or five times more and are a fourth or fifth of what the current lithium ion batteries cost today.”

All batteries store power by flowing a lithium ion current between two electrodes – a positively charged cathode and a negatively charged anode. And it’s the lithium ion conducting medium between the two that make it work. In most batteries that material is a liquid.
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