‘Open innovation’ battery lab established at U-M with Ford, MEDC


A unique $8 million battery lab at the University of Michigan will enable industry and university researchers to collaborate on developing cheaper and longer lasting energy-storage devices in the heart of the U.S. auto industry.

Initial support for the lab includes $5 million from the Michigan Economic Development Corp., $2.1 million from Ford Motor Co. and roughly $900,000 from the College of Engineering. It will be housed at the U-M Energy Institute within the newly renovated Phoenix Memorial Laboratory — a project completed with $18 million in U-M funding.

“This kind of collaboration is essential to addressing complex challenges like sustainable energy and efficient transportation. I want to thank our campus leaders, MEDC and Ford for having such a singular focus on developing solutions to such challenging energy issues,” said President Mary Sue Coleman, who announced the lab at the dedication celebrating the renovation of the Phoenix Memorial Laboratory.

From left, U-M Energy Institute Director Mark Barteau, Regent Katherine White, President Mary Sue Coleman, Vice President for Research Stephen Forrest, and Ed Krause, global manager of external alliances at Ford Motor Co, cut the ceremonial ribbon to reopen the Phoenix Memorial Laboratory. Photo by Jospeh Xu, College of Engineering.

The new facility — for prototyping, testing and analyzing batteries and the materials that go into them — promises to be a key enabler for Southeast Michigan’s battery supply chain. It will bring together materials scientists and engineers, as well as suppliers and manufacturers, to ease a bottleneck in battery development near the nation’s automotive capital.

“Michigan is the home and leader of the global automotive industry including the development of advanced powertrain technologies. The battery prototyping facility at the Energy Institute will be a valuable resource for our automotive industry going forward,” said Nigel Francis, MEDC senior vice president, automotive, and senior automotive adviser to Gov. Rick Snyder.

At present, research labs — both in industry and at universities in the region — can test new battery structures and chemistries in “coin cells” that resemble those in a watch or hearing aid. But researchers need to be able to test whether their ideas will work in larger cells for more power-hungry devices, from smartphones on up to electric vehicles. The new battery facility will let researchers take this step.

For Ford, the lab represents a unique, collaborative approach to basic research in the space of advanced automotive battery development.

“We need to be able to test hundreds of chemistries and cell designs, but they have to be tests that can translate from the lab to the production line,” said Ted Miller, who manages Ford’s battery research. “Ford has battery labs that test and validate production-ready batteries, but nothing this far upstream. This is sorely needed and no one else in the auto industry has anything like it.”

The new lab will be available for any firm to use. It will also allow students to use state-of-the-art equipment while working closely with experts.

The Energy Institute envisions the new facility as a safe zone for non-competitive collaboration.

“This is open innovation,” said Mark Barteau, the DTE Energy Professor of Advanced Energy Research and director of the Energy Institute. “I believe that cooperation between university researchers and industry is essential to create advances that have real-world impact.

“Better technologies for energy storage are critical, both for making electric vehicles desirable alternatives on a much larger scale, and for seamlessly integrating with the power grid renewable energy resources like solar and wind.”

The facility will be open to non-automotive battery-makers as well. While prototyping is expected to be a big draw, the testing equipment will offer developers a way to predict how their batteries will fare in regular use and improve on their designs.

The analysis systems will be able to measure the battery while it’s running to determine how well it performs under expected operation. Measurements such as strain and temperature can identify mechanical and heat management issues that could decrease the battery’s performance and shorten its life.

Developers will also be able to do detailed post-testing analysis, revealing changes to the battery’s chemical microstructure after operating.


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