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Mechanical engineering team gets $200K to study increasing capacity of lithium batteries

June 29, 2016

INDIANAPOLIS -- The National Science Foundation has awarded $200,022 to a research team led by Likun Zhu, an associate professor of mechanical engineering with the School of Engineering and Technology at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, to overcome problems with one approach to increasing the capacity of lithium ion batteries.

Increasing the capacity of rechargeable lithium ion batteries is important because they help enable sustainable energy systems by storing electricity generated by intermittent renewable resources such as wind and solar energy, Zhu said. They also power zero-emission electric vehicles charged by electricity from renewable resources.

Yongzhu Fu, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering with the School of Engineering and Technology, is co-principal investigator.

According to Zhu, one approach to significantly improving capacity is to replace conventional graphite anodes with alloy-type anode materials that include the elements silicon, germanium and tin.

But the problem has been that these alloy materials swell up after charging and shrink down after discharging, which leads to fracturing of micrometer-sized particles and promotes mechanical failure.

This research will address this issue by adding the element selenium to alloy-type anodes, such as germanium and tin, made from micrometer-sized particles.

The resulting selenium-doped microparticles may be able to withstand the massive swelling/shrinking of the anode, Zhu said. But the fundamental mechanisms are still unclear.

"Advanced imaging and computational studies will gain a fundamental scientific understanding of these selenium-doped alloy materials, with the long-term goal of developing commercially affordable, high-performance anode materials for better batteries," Zhu said.

The research will be a collaborative effort between researchers at three universities: IUPUI, Mississippi State University and the University of Texas at Austin.
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Indiana University

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