University of Michigan lab working to create safer electric vehicle batteries that last longer

Posted at 5:40 AM, Sep 22, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-22 08:56:40-04

The interest in electric vehicles continues to grow in Michigan and across the country. Among automakers and engineers alike, there's an interest in making them safer and more dependable.

Now, a lab at the University of Michigan is working to do just that, and I was able to get a sneak preview of the work being done inside and what it means for the future of EVs.

The UM Battery Lab is helping create the batteries of the future for EVs, but it's something that's going to take years before it finishes.

“It’s always exciting to do be doing stuff and solving problems that we are interested in because it is fun and we are nerds and we like doing this kind of stuff," Alexandra Moy, a fourth-year PhD student, said.

Moy is one of the many students working on creating a variety of materials, including ceramic electrolytes, and lithium-lanthanum zirconium oxide.

“Three years ago, I had to struggle to get 20 students in it. This year, I had a wait list that was as long as the enrollment list, so the interest in batteries is clearly picking up," Professor Jeff Sakamoto said.

he and his students are working to make the EVs safer and make the batteries last longer. How? A liquid electrolyte helps charge lithium-ion batteries found in EVs.

What the battery lab is trying to do is replace it with a ceramic, solid electrolyte. The liquid electrolyte is flammable and can help fuel EV crashes.

“We are going to replace that liquid electrolyte that is flammable with a non-flammable, ceramic solid-state electrolyte," Sakamoto said.

Range anxiety can be another issue for drivers, especially with a lack of charging stations available. The new material could help batteries hold a charge for longer.

“That’s what this battery can do, it can double the range on an electric vehicle," Sakamoto said.

Michigan Engineering, the U.S. Department of Energy and eight other institutions are teaing up to continue studies into this technology to the tune of $11 million to help move electrification forward.

“I wanted to go into this field and have a positive impact because there are just wonderful things in the world and I would like to preserve them and keep them for future generations," Moy said.

One issue still to be studied is the cost. The solid ceramic material is more expensive, so the development is something U of M will continue to study.