Cal Professors Aim to Enhance Lithium-Ion Batteries

Researchers at the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego have their sights set on improving the efficiency and reducing the cost of lithium-ion batteries, according to a brief on the university's web site

The research group, led by Professor Miroslav Krstic and Postdoctoral Fellow Scott Moura, will work with a shared $9.6 million grant from the US Department of Energy's Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy (ARPA-E). 

In tandem with automotive products supplier Bosch and battery manufacturer Cobasys, the UC San Diego team will test new algorithms for predicting and monitoring battery efficiency. Rather than relying on current and voltage as benchmarks of battery life, as has been custom in most research models, Krstic and Moura have designed sophisticated algorithms to estimate what is going on physically within the battery at the electrochemical level. 

The research could lead to batteries that charge twice as fast as current technology, cutting cost by up to 25%, the report says. The drawback of current knowledge based on voltage and current analysis is that crude measurements lead to oversized batteries that weigh more, cost more, and hold back wider application of electric power, specifically in automobiles, though also in many consumer products such as mobile phones. 

“This research is bringing the promise that, with advanced estimation algorithms that are based on mathematical models, batteries can be charged faster and can run more powerful electric motors,” said Krstic.

The ARPA-E grant will enable the UC San Diego group to refine their algorithms by testing them directly on real batteries, with testbeds developed by Bosch and Cobasys. Results from this research present the possibility not only of refining methods for the design of lithium-ion batteries, but also of estimating the ways a battery's health evolves over time and through use. The grant is aimed at maximizing the potential for charging and using batteries while maintaining safety.