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AU, General Electric sign contract for battery research
4/27/12

Alfred University (AU) and General Electric have signed a contract to develop a new generation of sodium metal halide batteries.

The batteries are targeted at heavy-duty transportation and stationary power quality applications like hybrid locomotives and back-up power for telecommunication sites. This collaborative research effort will significantly enhance battery reliability, cycle life and performance, according to Doreen Edwards, dean of the Inamori School of Engineering at AU.

The batteries will be developed by a consortium including AU and led by GE Global Research (GEGR). In March, 2010 the consortium was awarded a three-year, $2.5 million incentive from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA).

"We are very excited to work with Alfred University to improve our sodium metal halide battery technology," said Job Rijssenbeek, GEGR principal investigator. "Alfred’s expertise in ceramics and glasses is world renown and we’ve had extremely productive collaborations in the past."

"This is a fantastic opportunity for Alfred because it directly complements our research interests and expertise," said Matthew Hall, an AU engineering professor. "At least half of our research effort is devoted to energy applications. And a lot [of the work] would be an extension of the work done on fuel cells here for the last decade."

Hall is both an engineering professor and director of the NYSTAR-funded Center for Advanced Ceramic Technology, which facilitates many industrial-academic collaborations, including this one.

Members of this consortium are Clarkson University, Columbia University, SUNY-Stony Brook and Brookhaven National Laboratory in addition to both AU and GEGR. Both AU and the Center for Advanced Ceramic Technology (CACT) are providing cost-sharing dollars.

"Energy storage devices are an important facet of clean energy, and play a role both in the storage of renewable energy and also in the use of energy-efficient vehicles and technological devices," said Francis J. Murray Jr., NYSERDA president and chief executive officer. "NYSERDA looks forward to the consortium’s research and development activities leading to greater economic development activity in New York’s clean-energy economy.

The AU project will focus on developing a stronger and more conductive ceramic electrolyte separating the cathode from the anode, and a more robust and corrosion-resistant glass, said Edwards. AU will also be developing a theoretical computational model to accelerate further improvements.

For the electrolyte, AU seeks to improve the mechanical and electrical properties of beta-alumina solid electrolyte (BASE). A critical component of the battery, the BASE physically separates the anode from the cathode while providing the pathway for the sodium ions to shuttle between them.

Alfred will also synthesize BASE samples, and measure their conductivity and strength. The measurements will be used for meso-scale computer simulations to further refine sample properties. Based on this work, AU and GEGR will design compositions with improved properties, said Hall.

Encasing the batteries' electrical components, the sealing glass must survive chemically demanding environments, and thus enables long-lived batteries. For the sealing glass, AU and GEGR will develop accelerated glass stability tests to elucidate glass corrosion mechanisms and predict seal life. AU will also develop a model for predicting the thermal properties as a function of glass composition.

"Alfred and the other partners on this proposal are a testament to the depth of talent and technical capability that is available in New York State," said Rijssenbeek. "With NYSERDA’s help we are able to tap into some of this expertise to develop a pipeline of technology and talent, create manufacturing jobs in upstate New York, and address some of the energy storage challenges facing our world today."