Nanotechnology Engineering team wins award to build better batteries

Friday, December 16, 2022

Electric cars are the wave of the future. In fact, the government of Canada has pledged that all new light-duty vehicles be zero-emission by 2035. While electric vehicles (EVs) are more available today, there are still design issues that impede these vehicles from completely replacing their gas-fueled counterparts.

For example, owners of green vehicles often experience range anxiety, fearing they will run out of charge before reaching the next charging station which are scarcer than gasoline stations.

An added complication in countries like Canada that experience long cold winters is that current lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries commonly found in electric vehicles do not perform well in freezing temperatures.

Li-ion batteries move lithium ions between a cathode and an anode through an electrolyte solution to store energy. Low temperatures hinder the movement of the ions which reduces battery life and limits fast-charging capabilities, sometimes by as much as 80%.

A team of nanotechnology engineering students seeks to address this issue from a materials perspective. The primary objective of their project is to create a proof-of-concept battery coin cell with faster charging and greater capacity for battery EVs operating in low temperatures.

The fourth-year team applied for and was awarded the $2000 Magna E-Mobility Award which is a Capstone Design Projects award.

The award is open to students who demonstrate a potential for significant innovation in electric and autonomous vehicles.

Team members Joshua Hanneson, Brian Lee, Dihan Wu, and Connor Hawkins researched new materials that would perform better in sub-zero temperatures. Supervised by Professor Michael Pope, the team will approach the problem by changing the anode as well as the electrolyte.

The graphite anode will be coated with turbostratic carbon to allow greater conductivity at low temperatures. Additionally, they proposed the use of 1,3-dioxolane as an electrolyte as it has a lower desolvation energy and freezing point than conventional ethylene carbonate which is currently used in Li-ion batteries.

“I look forward to working with this talented team in developing innovative solutions to one of the most urgent challenges facing widespread adoption of EVs,” said Pope.

The team, who are also supervised by Professor Yverick Pascal Rangom is encouraged by this award and looks forward to presenting their findings in their Capstone Design Project early next year.