Improving ‘Holy Grail’ Lithium Metal Batteries

Q&A with engineer Chengcheng Fang

Michigan State University is one of the top 100 research universities in the world and a member of the prestigious Association of American Universities, widely regarded as among the top research-intensive institutions in North America. The following story highlights one of the many examples of MSU’s research excellence and innovation.

Chengcheng Fang is an assistant professor in the College of Engineering and recently was named a 2022 Innovator Under 35 by the science and technology magazine MIT Technology Review.

Q: What is the difference between a lithium-ion battery and a lithium metal battery?

A: The lithium metal battery has a different chemistry. In a lithium-ion battery, graphite is used as the anode, one of the two electrodes in a battery, to host lithium ions during battery charge and discharge. In a lithium metal battery, we use lithium metal as the anode, which offers more than 10 times higher capacity than that of graphite.

Q: Why are lithium metal batteries considered the “holy grail” of batteries?

A: Our lives have been changed a lot by modern lithium-ion battery technologies from laptops, cell phones and electric vehicles, or EVs. But lithium-ion technologies have reached their theoretical energy-density limit after more than 30 years of development. The new type of battery I am working on — the lithium metal battery — is the “holy grail” of battery technology because it could provide the highest possible energy density, potentially double that of lithium-ion batteries. This means we could get double the mileage of an EV on a single charge.

Q: What are the current challenges to lithium metal battery technology?

A: Producing batteries with high energy density is important, as people have “mileage anxiety” about how far they can travel on a single charge in an EV. A fast-charging cycle is another goal because no one wants to have to wait an hour for their car to charge. In places like Michigan, issues with low temperature performance can also be an issue. The current EV battery technologies can easily lose 30% of their mileages in winter. Safety is also a concern because the batteries can be explosive. These are the very urgent technical challenges that our material scientists and battery engineers need to solve right now.

Q: Why is this research important?

A: We want to enable viable commercial application of this very attractive battery technology, which will make EVs attractive to millions of consumers to accelerate the transition to a sustainable world. Globally, many countries are announcing plans to replace all the gasoline-based vehicles with EVs in the next decade. The global EV market is projected to reach nearly $824 billion by 2030. The new electric car technology can reduce humanity’s carbon footprint and fight climate change, and benefit society in many aspects, like creating millions of jobs associated with clean energy storage technologies and enhancing the resilience of modern cities.

Q: Why is MSU the best place for this research?

A: Fighting climate change is one of the important goals of the MSU 2030 Strategic Plan. Sharing the same vision, our research on developing next-generation battery technologies is receiving support and recognition in many ways. MSU has built and keeps building state-of-the-art research facilities. Being in Michigan, we have the opportunity to work with electric vehicle experts in the industry who share their goals. General Motors is bringing $2.6 billion to build a battery manufacturing facility in the Lansing area. I believe now is the time our Spartan engineers can solve many of the historically challenging problems with lithium metal batteries.


Article originally published on MSU Today

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