Rechargeable battery expert awarded prestigious Steacie honour

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

A Waterloo Engineering researcher is the recipient of an E.W.R Steacie Memorial Fellowship from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) for his work in developing new materials that make batteries and fuel cells smaller, lighter and longer-lasting.

Zhongwei Chen pointing at laptop screen in a research lab

Photo credit: NSERC 

Zhongwei Chen, a chemical engineering professor and the Canada Research Chair in Advanced Materials for Clean Energy, leads a team of engineering graduate students that is producing low-cost nanomaterials for fuel cells, batteries and supercapacitors. Their technology has the potential to lower the costs of fuel cells by reducing or even eliminating the need for precious metals such as platinum and palladium. 

Waterloo researcher is developing silicon-based battery  

Announced today at Rideau Hall in Ottawa, Chen is one of six Steacie Memorial Fellowship  recipients. He plans to use his fellowship grant of $250,000 over two years to expand his team and advance his research.  

Chen’s partnership with the General Motors Global Research and Development Centre has produced a patented technology for fabricated silicon-based lithium-ion batteries with almost 10 times more energy. The technology would enable smartphones and other electronic devices to last 40 to 60 per cent longer between charges and electric cars to drive 500 kilometres further. As well, because silicon batteries are more lightweight than what is now on the market, the overall weight of an electric vehicle would be significantly reduced. 

Research will transform how we store renewable energy 

“More powerful batteries will transform how we produce and store renewable energy, which will allow the world to find meaningful alternatives to fossil fuels,” said Feridun Hamdullahpur, president and vice-chancellor of the University of Waterloo. ”I am very pleased to see NSERC recognize Professor Chen’s brilliant research resulting in an innovative technology. This is an excellent example of the high calibre of research being undertaken at Waterloo.”

Chen’s startup company, WatTech Power Inc., is commercializing a rechargeable battery technology that turns intermittently available renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power, into reliable sources of back-up power for regions that experience frequent power outages. By minimizing the amount of power purchased during high-cost periods, electricity bills are reduced. 

“Waterloo Engineering is extremely pleased with the recognition of Zhongwei Chen’s contributions in creating more energy-efficient and substantially smaller batteries,” said Wayne Parker, acting dean of Waterloo Engineering. “This highly regarded fellowship will allow him to further focus on research that has the potential for major impacts throughout the world.” 

The E.W.R. Steacie Memorial Fellowship honours the memory of Edgar William Richard Steacie, an outstanding chemist and research leader who made major contributions to the development of science in Canada during, and immediately following, World War II.