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Aug. 30, 2012 Volume 34, No. 2

Engineering professor strives to make the perfect electric battery


Battery may be available commercially by end of 2014

Although electricity is abundant in the United States, it has not proven to be ideal for transportation because of the high cost of batteries and, to some extent, the long charge times.

Galen Suppes, a professor of chemical engineering, wants to change this. He and his research team of graduate and undergraduate students are developing a new battery that will increase performance and reduce materials and manufacturing costs of producing batteries. He believes this battery will be ready for the commercial market by the end of 2014.

“The difference between the battery we’re researching and developing is that it has a pump that moves liquid electrolyte between the sides of the battery, which enables it to produce more power over conventional batteries,” Suppes said. “This technology does not exist now.”

The goal is to reduce the cost of electric vehicles and charge times so that “sales would substantially increase, use would increase, and we would have a lot of imported oil replaced with domestic electricity,” Suppes said.

The application is not limited to vehicle batteries, Suppes said. There is a large potential market with electrical grid storage in devices like wind turbines and solar energy. 

“This is an exceedingly important technology for the U.S. to reduce imports, to create jobs and increase national security,” he said.

In studies, the test battery was able to discharge power faster than conventional batteries, said Michael Gordon, a doctoral candidate in chemical engineering and one of the battery-team members. “Our battery produced five times as much power as batteries with similar capacities,” he said. “We were able to discharge the battery faster than a conventional battery, which results in a power increase.”

Gordon, who has worked with Suppes on the invention since 2008, said the team’s design ultimately would create a lighter, cheaper battery.

Suppes said one of the reasons for the delay in getting the battery to market is that instead of using off-the-shelf equipment and materials, his team has fabricated most of the parts, made special materials and developed experimental methods on a regular basis. 

“When you have to do all those things, it takes longer to get the research done,” Suppes said.