Andy Sun receives $4 million grant toward solid-state battery research


Western Engineering News | May 22, 2018

On a global scale, governments are in the midst of creating policies to focus on the implementation of advanced batteries for electronic vehicles. Several European countries have already developed national plans to eventually ban the selling of gas-run vehicles and sell strictly electric vehicles. For example, Iceland and Norway target a gas-run vehicle ban by 2025, Germany targets 2030, and France and the United Kingdom target 2040.

The heart of an electric vehicle is the battery, and with an international focus on the mass use of electronic vehicles, the advancement of batteries is crucial.

Mechanical and Materials Engineering Professor Xueliang (Andy) Sun recently received a $4 million grant from the Ontario Research Fund (ORF) for his work in developing solid-state batteries used for electric vehicles.

Sun and his team have partnered with industry giants General Motors Canada, 3M and the China Automotive Battery Research Institute (CABRI), who have collectively contributed an additional $4.4 million to Western’s development of solid-state batteries.

At the beginning of 2017, CABRI set up a Joint Laboratory with Sun’s group at Western to advance the research of solid-state batteries with a $3.35 million investment to Western. In November 2017, CABRI also contributed $10 million to set up Canadian-based company Glabat Solid-State Battery Inc. here at Western’s Research Park, where industry professionals will collaborate with Western researchers to create solid-state battery prototypes.

Sun, who is also a Tier I Canada Research Chair (CRC) for the Development of Nanostructured Materials for Energy Conversion and Storage, leads the research team with a combined expertise. Dr. Tsun-Kong Sham is a Distinguished University Professor in Western’s Chemistry Department and holds a Tier I CRC in materials and synchrotron radiation. Professor Gianluigi Botton of McMaster University is the Scientific Director of the Canadian Centre for Electron Microscopy and CRC in Electron Microscopy of Nanoscale Materials. And Dr. Hamidreza Abdolvand, who joined Western’s Mechanical and Materials Engineering Department in 2017, focuses on understanding the deformation mechanisms of energy and structural materials across length and time scales.

“The four of us together form a very strong team to address the challenges in this field,” said Sun.

Batteries for electronic vehicles and cellphones use a similar principle, however, the existing battery contains a liquid-based electrolyte, which is flammable. Sun referenced reports against cellphone company Samsung, which revealed many of its devices were exploding or burning, putting its customers in danger.  

Addressing the major challenge of safety issues, the ORF grant will help fund the replacement of liquid electrolytes in batteries with a solid-state material.

A second major challenge with existing batteries for electronic vehicles is that they allow the car to run approximately only 500 kilometres. Ideally, a vehicle should run 800 to 1,000 kilometres per charge. The development of the solid-state batteries will achieve a higher energy density, addressing the issue of battery life.

“Toyota recently announced they want to commercialize solid-state batteries in a few years, and Honda announced they’ve set up a centre dedicated to solid-state batteries,” said Sun. “Many automakers have a plan in place, which means both automakers and governments see this as a direction for not only electronic vehicles, but for other electronic devices such as cellphones.”

Sun strongly believes that over the course of the next few years, the ORF grant will make a vast contribution, facilitating an advance from the fundamental study of solid-state batteries to the building of a prototype.