The US Department of Energy has awarded the University of Michigan an $11 million federal grant to fund research for ceramic, solid-state batteries for use in electric vehicles.

The grant will help establish an Energy Frontier Research Center at the Ann Arbor university. According to Jeff Sakamoto, a team of six professors and ten faculty members from around the country will lead the research. Sakamoto is the Director of the Center and a professor of mechanical engineering.

The research will focus on developing solutions for solid-state batteries, which are safer and more efficient than the lithium-ion batteries used by automakers today. The ceramic ion conductors in solid-state batteries are not combustible and perform more efficiently the hotter they become. That means they have the potential to double the range without risk of fire. The challenges come from the expense needed to mass produce them and the fact that they are very brittle.

“In terms of the mechanical processes, they’re no different than a coffee cup,” said Sakamoto. “You know what happens when you drop a coffee cup: It shatters.”

The grant will be distributed over four years. The newly developed center will work with the state-funded EV training center at UM, which was unveiled in July. Research partners include Northwestern University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign; University of Texas, Austin; Georgia Institute of Technology; Princeton University, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and Purdue University.

Sakamoto said he expects automakers to be interested in the outcome of the research, even if they’re not directly involved. “I can’t think of a single OEM right now that’s not interested or heavily invested in solid-state batteries,” he said. “The reason these OEMs are interested in this technology is not just because it has a lot of promise but because it is maturing quite quickly.”

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