Batteries power green future
We’re in a global climate change crisis and need to have a fundamental shift in the way we look at energy,” says Linda Nazar, who sees her research focus as “absolutely vital for this planet, for life on Earth.”
The Waterloo chemistry professor and her group are trying to build better batteries — energy storage materials and devices designed for intermittent renewable power sources, such as solar and wind, and for electric, plug-in electric, fuel-cell, and hybrid electric vehicles.
I’m committed to the chemistry of energy storage and conversion materials,” says Nazar, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Solid State Materials.
Although lithium-ion batteries are widely used in computers and other electronic devices, the batteries are expensive and not safe for larger applications.
We need car batteries to be highly reliable, not prone to runaway thermal reactions,” she explains.
Compared to the lithium-ion battery, nickel metal hydride batteries — currently used in hybrid electric vehicles — don’t meet the energy storage requirements for electric or plug-in hybrid electric cars. So the race is on to find ways of modifying the lithium-ion battery to respond to new demands.
The development of a different class of safer battery materials is the “bees knees” of research, says Nazar, who is collaborating with researchers at University of Waterloo and other universities. By developing new material structures and modifying them at the nano level, her group has developed a new material, sodium ion fluorophosphate, that could replace more costly lithium metal phosphate materials. A patent is pending for that discovery, as well as for another innovation.
As a PhD student at he University of Toronto, Nazar was inspired to work in the fields of solid state chemistry and energy material chemistry by a visiting lecturer from the University of Oxford. Ten years ago, the focus was on batteries for small-scale electronics, she recalls. Today, with the urgent need for alternative energy sources, priorities have shifted.
The time has come for this kind of research.”