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Developing Better, Safer Batteries

New Technology Will Enable Better Safer Batteries; Promote Independence from Foreign Energy Sources

Two Dayton researchers have been awarded a patent for advanced battery technology that will aid the U.S. in its effort to wean from dependence on foreign oil.

University of Dayton Research Institute engineer Binod Kumar and former UDRI researcher Stanley Rodrigues were issued Patent No. 6,986,970 for a colloidal electrolyte that will enable lithium batteries that are more powerful, less-costly and safer to humans and the environment than other traditional and lithium batteries.

“The development and use of high-performance, lithium rechargeable batteries are an important part of President Bush’s national initiative on independence from foreign energy sources,” Kumar said. “Rechargeable lithium batteries have potential for use in a wide variety of applications, from small electronic devices, such as cell phones, to hybrid automobiles, aircraft and space vehicles.”

Because lithium is the lightest solid element and possesses the highest oxidation potential (critical to battery voltage), lithium batteries can be made lighter – yet with up to five times more power – than traditional batteries. Lithium batteries also have a high energy density, meaning a higher percentage of their weight can be used to store a charge than other battery types, such as lead-acid, nickel-cadmium and nickel-metal-hydride (currently used in hybrid cars). Conversely, these traditional battery chemistries possess low power and energy densities, contain metals toxic to humans and the environment, and are expensive. These concerns have driven the research and development behind lithium batteries, Kumar said.

Still, lithium batteries have not yet reached their application potential because of some drawbacks. “State-of-the-art lithium batteries contain a liquid organic electrolyte that is flammable and can leak out when the battery freezes,” Kumar said. “In addition, these batteries are difficult and costly to manufacture.” While rechargeable lithium batteries have been used in smaller applications, such as personal electronic devices, scaling them up in size for larger applications – such as aircraft and electric vehicles – has raised safety and cost concerns, Kumar added.

The colloidal electrolyte – a combination of liquid and submicroscopic ceramic particles – addresses these concerns and will facilitate the development of next-generation lithium batteries with improved performance and lower cost, he said. “This invention will increase the power rating, reduce the manufacture and sale price and extend the life of lithium batteries,” he said. “It shows improved performance at low temperatures and suppresses the flammability of liquid electrolyte, thus enabling the manufacture and transportation of larger size batteries.”

Larger, safe and more efficient rechargeable batteries are critical to advancing hybrid gas-and-electric vehicles, which currently use nickel-metal hydride batteries. Better batteries will extend the distance hybrid vehicles can travel before switching from electric to fuel power, thus reducing the amount of fuel required for everyday travel.

Discussing his Advanced Energy Initiative earlier this year, President Bush said the 2007 federal budget includes $31 million in new research funding to support advanced battery research – an increase of 27 percent over 2006 levels.

March 24, 2006

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