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Yan Wang

WPI Researcher Leads $2.4 Million Project to Manufacture Low-Cost, Fast-Charging Lithium Ion Car Batteries

United States Advanced Battery Consortium funds three-year project to improve battery manufacturing.

July 14, 2020
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Worcester, Mass. – July 14, 2020 – Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) will lead a team of industry and university researchers in a $2.4 million project to manufacture cheaper, faster-charging lithium ion car batteries.

Yan Wang, William Smith Dean’s Professor of Mechanical Engineering at WPI, is principal investigator of the three-year project. Other researchers are Heng Pan, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Missouri University of Science and Technology; Ming Tang, assistant professor of materials science and nanoengineering at Rice University; and Bryan Yonemoto at Microvast Inc.

The WPI-led researchers will reduce the cost and charging time of lithium ion car batteries by building on previous research to manufacture battery electrodes with a solvent-free approach.

“There are two key issues for electric vehicle batteries: The cost is too high, and charging takes too long,” Wang said. “The project goal is to lower the battery cost by 15% and charge the batteries in 15 minutes by manufacturing batteries with an innovative process.”

This project is funded through The United States Advanced Battery Consortium LLC (USABC) as part of a Cooperative Agreement with the Department of Energy with an award of $1,213,277, a 50% cost share of the program.  USABC is a subsidiary of the United States Council for Automotive Research LLC (USCAR), a collaborative organization of FCA US LLC, Ford Motor Company and General Motors. USABC is enabled by a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), and its mission is to develop electrochemical energy storage technologies that support commercialization of hybrid, plug-in hybrid, electric and fuel cell vehicles.  The Massachusetts Clean Energy Council (MassCEC), a state development agency, will contribute $194,304 through its AmplifyMass program. The three universities and Microvast will contribute the remaining amount.

Commercial lithium ion car battery electrodes are typically made by mixing active materials that provide energy, conductive carbon, polymer binders, and solvents to create a thick mixture known as slurry. The slurry gets pasted onto a flat metal substrate, which then moves through a furnace for drying. The solvent is recovered via a complex evaporation-condensation process. Finally, rollers press the coated metal, which can be cut into pieces for assembly into batteries.

The team working on the USABC project will develop a process that sprays dry mixed materials directly onto the substrate, cutting out solvents, drying time, and equipment needed to recover solvents. The process will also tightly pack materials onto substrates, making for energy-dense, faster-charging batteries.

“The technology development contract award with WPI is part of USABC’s broad battery technology research and development program,” said Steve Zimmer, executive director of USCAR. “Programs like this are critical to advancing the technology needed to meet both near- and long-term goals that will enable broader scale vehicle electrification.”

About 361,000 plug-in electric vehicles, most of them powered solely by batteries, were sold in the United States during 2018. But the cost of battery-powered vehicles remains a stumbling block to their sales, as most are more expensive than conventional vehicles.

Lithium ion car batteries represent the costliest component of electric vehicles, so bringing down battery costs could make them more competitive with gas-powered vehicles. Goals set by U.S. Department of Energy research programs aim to cut lithium ion car battery pack costs to $100 per kilowatt hour and slash charging times to 15 minutes.

“The transportation sector represents one of the most significant challenges facing Massachusetts as we work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, meet our ambitious carbon reduction goals, and mitigate the worst impacts of climate change,” said MassCEC chief executive Stephen Pike. “Fast-charging electric vehicle batteries represent a potentially groundbreaking technological advancement in clean transportation, and we are pleased to collaborate with WPI and USABC to support this promising project.”

Wang said one or two PhD candidates and one postdoctoral researcher also will work on the project at WPI.

About USCAR

Founded in 1992, USCAR is the collaborative automotive technology company for FCA US LLC, Ford Motor Company and General Motors. The goal of USCAR is to further strengthen the technology base of the domestic auto industry through cooperative research and development. For more information, visit www.uscar.org. All USCAR Member companies have joined in becoming signatories of the Responsible Raw Materials Initiative (RRMI), now part of the Responsible Minerals Initiative, RMI) Declaration of Support.

About Worcester Polytechnic Institute

WPI, the global leader in project-based learning, is a distinctive, top-tier technological university founded in 1865 on the principle that students learn most effectively by applying the theory learned in the classroom to the practice of solving real-world problems. Recognized by the National Academy of Engineering with the 2016 Bernard M. Gordon Prize for Innovation in Engineering and Technology Education, WPI’s pioneering project-based curriculum engages undergraduates in solving important scientific, technological, and societal problems throughout their education and at more than 50 project centers around the world. WPI offers more than 50 bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degree programs across 14 academic departments in science, engineering, technology, business, the social sciences, and the humanities and arts. Its faculty and students pursue groundbreaking research to meet ongoing challenges in health and biotechnology; robotics and the internet of things; advanced materials and manufacturing; cyber, data, and security systems; learning science; and more.  www.wpi.edu

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