Charging into the future with printed flexible components

Contact: Elizabeth VandenHeede

Dr. Dinesh Maddipatla, research associate in WMU’s Department of Chemical and Paper Engineering, shown here displaying printed electronic components, is part of a team working with a new roll-to-roll printer capable of supporting the practical development of electric vehicles, advanced rechargeable batteries and flexible components.

Dr. Massood Atashbar, professor of electrical engineering

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—An engineering team at Western Michigan University is charging into the future of electric battery production. For 15 years, Dr. Qingliu Wu, associate professor of chemical engineering, and Dr. Massood Atashbar, professor of electrical engineering, have put the University at the forefront of applied research in printed electronics and the development of flexible, lightweight sensing systems. They are amping that ability up with the installation of a Systec roll-to-roll screen printer, capable of boosting advances in printed batteries and flexible components.

“The acquisition of a roll-to-roll screen printer signifies a transformative leap in our research endeavors at Western,” says Wu. “With the new system in place, we can now demonstrate high-volume manufacturing processes leveraging both thermal and UV curing systems, and conduct in-depth optimization studies for enhanced device performance.”

Atashbar and Wu are leading a team in addressing critical challenges in the field of lithium-ion batteries (LIBs) to help pave the way for widespread adoption in electric vehicles, grid storage and other applications by improving accessibility and affordability and helping to address the shortage of raw materials for batteries.

“The interdisciplinary nature of printed electronics ensures the emergence of ground-breaking applications, solidifying it as a transformative technology with a profound impact on our daily lives,” adds Atashbar.

Dr. Qingliu Wu, associate professor of chemical engineering

“The screen printer will facilitate the transition from sheet-to-sheet to high-volume, roll-to-roll manufacturing, making these innovations accessible and cost-effective across diverse applications.”

To meet these ambitious targets, the team is developing a novel screen-printing process for high-volume electrode production with precisely controlled electrode architecture, referred to as secondary pore networks (SPNs). To improve the performance, reliability and longevity of the fast-charging batteries, one of the key challenges being addressed is the high tortuosity—the transport process for lithium ions in porous media—in electrodes. For electric vehicles, the lithium build-up that results restricts the ability to charge the battery at a rate that is competitive with refueling a combustion engine vehicle.

“Our printed electrode structures are designed to minimize tortuosity by providing more direct paths for lithium ions to move through the electrolyte and reach the active materials,” explains Atashbar.

“We are poised to make substantial contributions to the practicality of electric vehicles and portable devices by developing advanced rechargeable batteries with high energy density, fast charging capability, long life, and cost competitiveness. The success of this project has the potential to revolutionize the energy storage industry and accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles and grid-scale energy storage solutions.”

The purchase of the printer is part of a larger, ongoing effort in battery research with funding from a 2020 $9.6 million U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy grant awarded to Western with Wu as principal investigator.

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