Chen Collaborating on Next-Gen Battery Research

University of Massachusetts Amherst professor of mechanical and industrial engineering Wen Chen and his team will play a critical role in an ambitious multi-university/industry partnership to develop next-generation eco-friendly battery technology.

NEWS Wen Chen
Wen Chen

Because lithium-ion batteries can hold significant energy, they are used to charge portable electronic devices and electric vehicles and also to store electrical grid energy. There are significant drawbacks to the technology, however. While its materials are considered non-hazardous waste, they are not easily recycled. Because they contain flammable electrolytes, lithium-ion fires and explosions have happened. The roll-to-roll manufacturing process is inefficient and includes the use of toxic solvents, and, because the majority of critical elements are sourced from countries that may have geopolitical tensions with the U.S., the risk for supply chain disruptions is high.

The four-year, $2.7 million eco-manufacturing grant from the National Science Foundation will support fundamental research to eliminate these issues by creating a solid-state battery comprising Earth-abundant elements such as sodium, potassium, manganese and nickel through a direct ink writing, 3D printing form of sustainable manufacturing.

Chen’s team, with its $250,000 portion of the grant, will establish the project’s foundation by creating a 3D printed scaffold as the battery’s electrode material.

“Our award is trying to solve the issue of conventional battery materials through combining state-of-the-art 3D printing with a new battery material system which has not been used before,”

says Chen. “We propose to integrate 3D-printed Earth-abundant metal electrode components with a solid-state polymer organic electrolyte by an eco-manufacturing route of capillary infiltration. This process will make the battery safer as well as more eco-friendly.”

They will use a nickel-manganese alloy ink that becomes porous after undergoing an electrochemical process called “deallowing.” These microscale and macroscale pore walls will become a hierarchical cathode after undergoing solid-state conversion.

The project is led by the University of Pennsylvania. In addition to Chen, co-principal investigators include researchers from Stanford, Brown and Drexel universities and an industrial partner, lithium-ion battery manufacturer Xerion Advanced Battery Corp. 

The grant also includes an innovative hybrid online/in-person education and workforce development program. The Northeast Battery Workforce Training Program will target adult learners, people wishing to change careers, underrepresented minorities and veterans returning to civilian life.