Researchers Trying to Extend Battery Life

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy awarded the researchers a $4 million grant on Aug. 2 to continue their research.

Associate Vice Chancellor of Research and Director of Cymer Center for Control Systems and Dynamics Miroslav Krstic and postdoctoral researcher Scott Moura are partnering with Bosch USA and Cobasys LLC for their research on rechargeable batteries.

Moura said that there are two ways to work on improving batteries. The first synthesizes new material and the second improves upon what batteries already use. Krstic and Moura are doing the latter with lithium batteries, the most common consumer-grade batteries.

“We’re taking the lithium batteries and maximizing their full potential,” Moura said.

The problem that researchers face with batteries is that it is hard to get an accurate reading on how much power is left. Moura said that the traditional way that batteries are managed is very simple. The batteries we use for our phones and laptops have the potential to last much longer, but, for safety reasons, batteries are intentionally produced so that they do not reach their limits. Until safety limits cease to be a concern, we are not able to harness lithium batteries’ potential.

Krstic and Moura’s research use advanced models of how batteries operate to explain how the lithium in lithium-R batteries evolves from one electrode to another. Using these advanced models, they can predict how much power is left and can operate closer to the limits of each battery. Scientists do not want to push the limits of battery capacity for safety reasons.

“We have much more clarity in terms of what’s happening,” Moura said.   

Some of their recent discoveries include the ability to recharge batteries twice as fast and increase the amount of battery charge by 5 percent, if not more, in the future. If standardized, newly produced rechargeable lithium batteries would feature these traits.

Moura said a lot of the excitement about the research is in part due to the $4 million grant they were awarded in August.

“The fact that we’ve shown potential has resulted in a huge grant from the Department of Energy,” Moura said, “[Which makes it] so that we can really focus all the way.”

Some of the hype around campus has stemmed from Krstic’s position as the Associate Vice Chancellor of Research.

Krstic was named the Associate Vice Chancellor of Research in June and assumed his duties July 1. Moura said that Krstic’s new position has enabled the research team to connect with more people across campus. Many organizations and research students have reached out to the project to be a part of the research. Krstic’s position as the Associate Vice Chancellor of Research has brought his work into the spotlight, which has in turn attracted the interest of many energy research projects across campus.

“This research benefits other projects, and the other projects will benefit us,” Moura said.“It’s creating a critical mass of excitement about the storage and removal of energy here at UCSD.”

The research has gotten a lot of attention since Krstic and Moura received the grant. Their research was featured at the 2012 Dynamic Systems and Control Conference in Fort Lauderdale on Oct. 17-19. Moura said it was a featured topic chosen for the conference.

Moura said he enjoys his research because of the impact it will have on the future.

“It’s about driving equations and the logistics it represents, but that’s what it is day to day,” Moura said. “At the end, the whole thing hopefully will [create] technology products that make people’s lives better.”

He said it is exciting to have a big impact on other people’s lives.

“I absolutely love [this research],” Moura said. “It’s one of those things where if you don’t love it to the core of your heart, then it’s not the right field for you. ”

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