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Chemical engineering professor lands competitive Department of Energy grant

Chad Xing poses with members of his lab in front of some manufacturing equipment.

Chad Xing, a professor in the MU Chemical Engineering Department, put forth a proposal for a project that will develop a process for low-cost production of battery materials for lithium ion batteries and beyond. The DOE’s award of $2,215,560 will allow Xing to develop his proposed manufacturing technology over the course of the next three years. Xing is seen here with members of his lab. Photos by Hannah Sturtecky.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy recently selected 24 projects from a competitive field to receive a nearly $55 million investment in “vehicle technologies that will strengthen the U.S. clean energy economy.” One of the supported projects belongs to a researcher in the University of Missouri College of Engineering.

Chad Xing, a professor in the MU Chemical Engineering Department, put forth a proposal for a project that will develop a process for low-cost production of battery materials for lithium ion batteries and beyond. The DOE’s award of $2,215,560 will allow Xing to develop his proposed manufacturing technology over the course of the next three years.

A detail shot of a pressurized tank.

The technology Xing and his research team proposed involves improving the process to produce lithium ion batteries for electric vehicles. It uses a flame to burn chemical precursors when sprayed through a specially created nozzle, producing a powder of metal oxides for use in the lithium ion batteries.

The projects were divided into two categories, with Xing’s proposal one of 16 falling under the heading of “Critical Technologies to meet the EV Everywhere Challenge.” The challenge’s goal is to make electric vehicles as inexpensive to purchase and maintain as gasoline-powered vehicles by 2022.

“Hopefully, we’re going to develop it into a large-scale, production-scale pilot within three years and eventually go commercial,” Xing said.

The technology Xing and his research team proposed involves improving the process to produce lithium ion batteries for electric vehicles. It uses a flame to burn chemical precursors when sprayed through a specially created nozzle, producing a powder of metal oxides for use in the lithium ion batteries. Xing said he’s currently working on getting the new chemical precursors and nozzle technology patented.

“The precursors are different from previous ones, so you need a new nozzle to do that,” Xing said.

The process could help make the nation greener by virtue of driving down the cost of electric vehicles. An additional benefit is that the process itself is both efficient in terms of cost and energy, as well as environmentally friendly.

“We also have a new chemical precursor which uses green biomass, so it’s a green chemical process. You don’t produce additional CO2; it’s mostly just recycling,” Xing said.

Xing said his research team is partnering with EaglePicher Technologies, LLC, in Joplin, Mo., to test the material creation process and the batteries it eventually will produce. And while the main expected benefit is driving down the cost of environmentally friendly automobiles, Xing said he thinks the additional bonus to developing this new technology will be felt in the job market. Companies such as Tesla would be in need of these battery materials as they have a “gigafactory” for massive battery production, which could open the door for new battery manufacturing jobs.

“We need to have manufacturing in this country, and we need to have more manufacturing jobs in this country, and we’re developing a manufacturing process. If it goes commercial, there could be a lot of job opportunities,” Xing said.

Working on a U.S. Department of Energy-funded project brings with it a strict set of demands, used to ensure the project remains on schedule. Quarterly progress meetings, various reports, annual on-site inspections and an annual merit review meeting in Washington, D.C., are all part of the deal. But Xing said he relishes the oversight, adding that he’s looking forward to getting to work on potentially groundbreaking research.

“It’s a very exciting product for us because we’re working on batteries, and we have the expertise to make powder materials,” Xing said. “We’ve been working on [lithium battery technology] for a long time.”