Solid Power LLC logoTwo University of Colorado associate professors of mechanical engineering have developed a cutting-edge battery that could eventually give electric vehicles (EVs) twice the travel range, as the University of Colorado at Boulder reports. The U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy recently awarded the professors’ company, Solid Power LLC, a $3.4 million grant for the project.

The professors are Dr. SeHee Lee and Conrad Stoldt, both of them founders and principal scientists of the company, which is a spinoff from CU’s Technology Transfer Office, according to the University press release. They have partnered with Douglas Campbell, a small-business and early-stage product development veteran, who is founder, president and CEO of the company. Solid Power is a member of the Rocky Mountain Innosphere, a nonprofit technology incubator based in Fort Collins.

The University’s press release notes the company’s impact on Colorado:

‘We’re very excited to be working with Solid Power’s team to get them to the next level,’ said Mike Freeman, Innosphere’s CEO. ‘This is a big deal to Colorado’s clean-tech space. Solid Power’s batteries will have a huge impact in the EV market, and they have a potential $20 billion market for their technology.’

To get around the problem of using lithium metal in conjunction with a liquid electrolyte — an extremely hazardous combination that increases the risk of fire or explosion — Lee and Stoldt used a ceramic electrolyte instead of liquid electrolyte. The ceramic electrolyte separates the lithium metal anode from the cathode in their entirely solid-state battery, as the University press release explains.

“Because the solid-state battery is far safer, it requires less protective packaging, which in turn would reduce the weight of the battery system in electric vehicles and extend their range,” the release says. Stodt said that solid electrolytes always had very poor performance, which made it impractical to use them in rechargeable batteries. “However, the last decade has seen a resurgence in the development of new solid electrolytes with ionic conductive that rival their liquid counterparts,” Stodt said.

The press release elaborates:

The critical innovation added by Lee and Stoldt that allows their solid-state lithium battery to out-perform standard lithium-ion batteries is the construction of the cathode, the part of the battery that attracts the positively charged lithium ions once they’re discharged from the lithium metal. Instead of using a solid mass of material, Lee and Stoldt created a ‘composite cathode,’ essentially small particles of cathode material held together with solid electrolyte and infused with an additive that increases its electrical conductivity. This configuration allows ions and electrons to move more easily within the cathode.

‘The real innovation is an all-solid composite cathode that is based upon an iron-sulfur chemistry that we developed at CU,’ Stoldt said. ‘This new, low-cost chemistry has a capacity that’s nearly 10 times greater than state-of-the-art cathodes.’

The company reports on that Lee and Stoldt’s early research work was funded by the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency’s Defense Science’s Office. Their team is qualifying the innovative battery for a wide range of commercial applications.

The battery announcement comes at the same time as news reports saying that General Motors is developing an electric car that would sell for $30,000 and have a driving range of 300 miles per charge, as this blog reported yesterday. Also at the same time, Tesla announced that it is constructing the first EV supercharging station in Colorado.

Tesla offers two upgrade options for its Model S that include free supercharging at all Tesla supercharging stations in the U.S. The Model S can run as far as 265 miles on a charge, depending on which battery a person opts to buy.

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