Georgia Tech Battery Day Reveals Opportunities in Energy Storage Research
Georgia Tech Battery Day opened with a full house on March 30, 2023, at the Global Learning Center in the heart of Midtown Atlanta. More than 230 energy researchers and industry participants convened to discuss and advance energy storage technologies via lightning talks, panel discussions, student poster sessions, and networking sessions throughout the day. Matt McDowell, associate professor in the Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering and the School of Materials Science and Engineering as well as the initiative lead for energy storage at the Strategic Energy Institute and the Institute of Materials, started the day with an overview of the relevant research at Georgia Tech. His talk shed light on Georgia becoming the epicenter of the battery belt of the Southeast with recent key industry investments and the robust energy-storage research community present at Georgia Tech.
According to the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, since 2020, Georgia has had $21 billion invested or announced in EV-related projects with 26,700 jobs created. With investments in alternate energy technologies growing exponentially in the nation, McDowell revealed Georgia Tech is well-positioned to make an impact on the next generation energy storage technologies and extended an open invitation to industry members to partner with researchers. As one of the most research-intensive academic institutions in the nation, Georgia Tech has more than $1.3 billion in research and other sponsored funds and produces the highest number of engineering doctoral graduates in the nation.
“More than half of Georgia Tech's strategic initiatives are focused on improving the efficiency and sustainability of energy storage, supporting clean energy sources, and mitigating climate change," said Chaouki Abdallah, executive vice president for research at Georgia Tech. "As a leader in battery technologies research, we are bringing together engineers, scientists, and researchers in academia and industry to conduct innovative research to address humanity's most urgent and complex challenges, and to advance technology and improve the human condition."
Rich Simmons, director of research and studies at the Strategic Energy Institute moderated the first panel discussion that included industry panelists from Panasonic, Cox Automotive, Bluebird Corp., Delta Airlines and Hyundai Kia. The panelists analyzed the opportunities and challenges in the electric transportation sector and explained their current focus areas in energy storage. The panel affirmed that while EVs have been around for more than three decades, the industry is still in its infancy and there is a huge potential to advance technology in all areas of the EV sector.
The discussion also brought forth important factors like safety, lifecycle, and sustainability in driving innovations in the energy storage sector. The attendees also discussed supply chain issues, a hot topic in almost all sectors of the nation, and the need to develop a diversity of resources for more resilient systems. The industry panelists affirmed a strong interest in partnering on research and development projects as well as gaining access to university talent.
Gleb Yushin, professor in the School of Material Science and Engineering and co-founder of Sila Nanotechnologies Inc., presented his battery research and development success story at Georgia Tech. Sila is a Georgia Tech start-up founded in 2011 and has produced the world’s first commercially available high-silicon-content anode for lithium-ion batteries in 2021. Materials manufactured in its U.S. facilities will power electric vehicles starting with the Mercedes-Benz G-class series in 2023.
The program included lightning talks on cutting-edge research in battery materials, specifically solid-state electrolytes and plastic crystal embedded elastomer electrolytes (PCEEs) by Seung Woo Lee, associate professor in the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering. Santiago Grijalva, professor in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, discussed the challenges and opportunities for the successful use of energy storage for the grid.
Tequila Harris, initiative lead for Energy and Manufacturing and professor in the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering, spoke to energy materials and carbon-neutral applications. Presenting a case for roll-to-roll manufacturing of battery materials, Harris said that the need for quick, high yield manufacturing processes and alternative materials and structures were important considerations for the industry.
Materials, manufacturing, and market opportunities were the topic for the next panel moderated by McDowell and included panelists from Albemarle, Novelis, Solvay, Truist Securities, and Energy Impact Partners. Analyzing the current challenges, the panelists brought up hiring and workforce development, increasing capacity and building the ecosystem, decarbonizing existing processes, and understanding federal policies and regulations.
Lightning talks later in the afternoon by researchers at Georgia Tech touched on the latest developments in the cross-disciplinary research bridging mechanical engineering, chemical engineering, AI manufacturing, and material science in energy storage research. Topics included safe rechargeable batteries with water-based electrolytes (Nian Liu, assistant professor, School of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering), AI-accelerated manufacturing (Aaron Stebner, associate professor, School of Materials Science and Engineering), battery recycling (Hailong Chen, associate professor, School of Materials Science and Engineering), and parametric life-cycle models for a solid-state battery circular economy (Ilan Stern, research scientist from GTRI).
Another industry panel on grid, infrastructure and communities moderated by Faisal Alamgir, professor in the School of Materials Science and Engineering included panelists from Southern Company, Stryten Energy, and the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce. Improving the grid resiliency and storage capacity; proximity to the energy source; optimizing and implementing new technology in an equitable way; standardization of the evolving business models; economic development and resource building through skilled workforce; educating the consumer; and getting larger portions of the grid with renewable energy were top of mind with the panelists.
“Energy-storage-related R&D efforts at Georgia Tech are extensive and include next-gen battery chemistry development, battery characterization, recycling, and energy generation and distribution,” said McDowell. “There is a tremendous opportunity to leverage the broad expertise we bring to advance energy storage systems. Battery Day has been hugely successful in not only bringing this expertise to the forefront, but also in affirming the need for continued interaction with the companies engaged in this arena. Our mission is to serve as a centralized focal point for research interactions between companies in the battery/EV space and faculty members on campus.”