B.C. researcher awarded for success in boosting Li-Ion batteries
Making a better battery for electric cars
As sales of electric cars continue to rise in Canada, an up-and-coming researcher at Simon Fraser University is being recognized for her innovative work to improve lithium ion batteries needed for the cars by giving battery developers the tools to ‘see’ inside them.
The breakthrough work has earned Audrey Taylor the Mitacs Award for Outstanding Innovation — PhD, awarded by Mitacs, a national innovation organization that fosters growth by solving business challenges with research solutions from academic institutions. The award will be presented at a virtual ceremony taking place on November 24.
Developing a high tech tool
Taylor — a researcher working under Professor Byron Gates in the Department of Chemistry at Simon Fraser University — is being recognized for developing a high tech tool that enables rapid testing of the particles inside a lithium ion battery at the nano scale to enable maximum battery performance and longevity.
Her secret? Taylor applied the same method used in examining biological specimens to lithium batteries. In place of a knife, she used a diamond blade to cut the hard ceramic-like make-up of the battery into ultra-thin slices — a process industry nay-sayers thought couldn’t be done.
Li-Ion an emerging field
“Lithium ion batteries represent an emerging field and, therefore, we need new techniques to study them at the atomic level,” said Taylor, who was able to obtain 60 nanometre thick cross-sections of particles 20 microns wide on one sample for viewing under a transmission electron microscope. To appreciate the scale, the diameter of a human hair is roughly 70,000 nanometres or 70 microns thick, she explained.
Her method is now being used by Burnaby, B.C.-based Nano One Materials Corp. to produce low cost, high performance cathode powders used in lithium ion batteries.
Faster R&D turnaround
“Nano One needed a quick way to inspect the protective coatings it was developing to improve the performance and longevity of lithium ion batteries,” Taylor said. “Using our methodology, they can quickly obtain high resolution imaging of their coatings, which in turn leads to faster research and development turnaround,” she said, adding that the tool can also be used to understand what’s happening at a battery’s end of life.
“The more we know about what’s happening inside the batteries, the better we can prevent adverse events and ensure high performance,” she said.