U.S. Department of Energy is Funding a $60M Project to Help Increase the Operating Temperature & Safety of Lithium-ion EV Batteries

U.S. Department of Energy is Funding a $60M Project to Help Increase the Operating Temperature & Safety of Lithium-ion EV Batteries

Author: Eric Walz   

The U.S. The Department of Energy (DOE) announced on Monday it selected Boston-based battery technology company Koura to participate in a $60 million project that will study ways to increase the operating temperature of lithium-ion electric vehicle batteries. The project is intended to help accelerate advancements in zero-emissions vehicles. 

As a part of the $60 million investment from the DOE, Koura was awarded $3.1 million. The research funding will support the development of "fluorinated electrolytes" to protect EV batteries from overheating while improving the fast charging capabilities. The fluorinated electrolytes will also help reduce the risk of fires and short circuits at higher operating temperatures.

Koura, which is a division of Mexico-based chemical company Orbia, is emerging as a global leader in the development, manufacture and supply of fluoroproducts and technologies. The company says its the largest producer of fluorspar (calcium fluorite) in the world, accounting for over 20% of the global supply.

"We are excited to be selected to participate in this important initiative," said Miodrag Oljaca, head of Growth and Technology at Koura. "The new research funding from the Department of Energy is recognition of Koura's innovation in battery technology and our strategic approach to developing next-generation technologies that can deliver improved safety, performance and sustainability for the entire battery industry."

Electrolytes in an EV battery enable the flow of positive and negatively-charged ions between the cathode and anode inside batteries. Most lithium-ion batteries use carbonate-based electrolytes, which are prone to overheating and limit the temperatures at which a battery can safely operate.

However the use of fluorinated electrolyte mixed non-polar solvents, which are non-flammable, allows a battery to operate in a broader range of temperatures and voltages versus conventional carbonate electrolytes, without the need for a complex battery cooling system. The use of fluorinated electrolyte gives a battery a higher electrochemical stability. 

In Aug 2020, Researchers at Kyoto University working with Japan's Toyota Motor Corp announced the development of a solid state fluoride-ion battery with seven times the energy density of a lithium-ion battery that can deliver EV ranges of over 600 miles per charge.

For the project, Koura will partner with researchers at Silatronix and the DOE's Argonne National Lab in Illinois. Silatronix will assist in electrolyte development and manufacture of batteries to validate their performance.

Madison, Wisconsin based Silatronix is a developer of an electrolyte solvent named "OS3", which stabilizes lithium salt and carbonate to improve lithium-ion battery performance. The solvent works in both liquid and solid electrolyte batteries.

Earlier this month, Koura announced that it has signed a definitive agreement to acquire Silatronix. 

Silatronix was established in 2007 by Dr. Robert West and Dr. Robert Hamers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison as an incubator for battery technology. With support from the DOE and the Office of Naval Research, Silatronix has built a reputation for developing breakthrough solutions and electrolyte technologies for lithium-ion batteries.

The $3.1 million in funding from the DOE will also help Koura expand its presence in energy storage and EV battery technologies in the U.S. in order to set up a domestic supply chain. Although electrolytes are a key component of Li-ion batteries, it's currently sourced almost exclusively outside of the U.S., according to Koura. 

Eric Walz
Eric Walz
Originally hailing from New Jersey, Eric is a automotive & technology reporter covering the high-tech industry here in Silicon Valley. He has over 15 years of automotive experience and a bachelors degree in computer science. These skills, combined with technical writing and news reporting, allows him to fully understand and identify new and innovative technologies in the auto industry and beyond. He has worked at Uber on self-driving cars and as a technical writer, helping people to understand and work with technology.
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