Alum Dennis McOwen Leads Effort to Develop a Groundbreaking New Battery

Dr Dennis McOwenIf you’re one of the 2.5 million former owners of a Samsung Galaxy Note 7 you probably know lithium ion batteries have a history of overheating or catching fire. Alum Dennis McOwen (PhD, ’14) and a research team he leads at the University of Maryland Energy Research Center (UMERC) are working to change that.

Lithium ion batteries are attractive to device makers because they can store a lot of energy in a tiny space. They work by moving lithium ions between negative and positive electrodes to charge and discharge. To allow the ions to move easily, they’re suspended in pressurized cells that are filled with volatile and flammable chemicals inside the batteries.

Movement of the ions generates heat. If the battery is badly designed or improperly used or installed, that heat can ignite the chemicals, causing flames or explosions. Damage to the ultra-thin walls that keep different parts of the battery separate can lead to short circuits and a corresponding heat buildup.

Dr. McOwen and his colleagues have developed a groundbreaking new battery design that’s inherently non-flammable and has higher energy density than today’s best Li-ion batteries. The technology is built around a lithium conducting ceramic electrolyte that can’t burn, making batteries significantly safer. Just as critical, the unique triple layer microstructure and electrode interfaces the team has created enables the use of super-high capacity electrodes like lithium metal that can’t be used in conventional batteries.

Dennis, Prof. Eric Wachsman (Director of the UMERC and the William L. Crentz Centennial Chair in Energy Research in the UMD Clark School of Engineering) and Dr. Greg Hitz (Chief Technology Officer at Ion Storage Systems and former UMER graduate assistant) are commercializing this new technology through their start-up company, Ion Storage Systems, LLC.

The work is currently funded by the NASA Advanced Energy Storage Systems (AESS) program, the Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy (ARPA-E) program and the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) Advanced Battery Materials Research (BMR) Program (both agencies are within the U.S Department of Energy).