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IIT, Argonne get $3.4M grant to improve electric-car battery

Researchers Dileep Singh (left) Carlo Segre Mike DuobJohn Katsoudas ElenTimofeevChris Pelliccione with one plug-electric vehicles they hope revolutionize with IIT-Argonne

Researchers Dileep Singh (left), Carlo Segre, Mike Duoba, John Katsoudas, Elena Timofeeva and Chris Pelliccione with one of the plug-in electric vehicles they hope to revolutionize with the IIT-Argonne “nanoelectrofuel” flow battery technology they are developing. | Photo courtesy IIT-Argonne

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Updated: October 5, 2013 6:28AM

Researchers at the Illinois Institute of Technology and Argonne National Laboratory announced Tuesday they have won a $3.4 million federal grant to develop technology that could let electric cars run five times longer on a single charge.

The technology aims to make all-electric cars a more viable choice by allowing them to travel 500 to 1,000 miles on a single electric charge, rather than today’s 40 to 100 miles. And motorists would be able to “fill up” quickly, much like they do at a gas station — with a rechargeable liquid that runs the vehicle battery, said lead researcher Carlo Segre, a physics professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology for the past 30 years.

The grant from the U.S. Department of Energy will let the researchers build a prototype of a modified “flow” battery that runs on liquid nanoelectrofuel electrodes, rather than the solid electrodes that a typical solid state battery runs on, Segre said Tuesday.

The liquid nanoelectrofuel provides an option for motorists to charge the battery in a conventional plug-in setup or quickly switch out the discharged battery fluid to the charged one. Rechargeable liquid nanoelectrofuels provide zero emissions, Segre said.

The improvements to electric cars probably wouldn’t happen for seven years or so, Segre said.

The nanotechnology-enabled flow battery also would be safer than today’s lithium-ion batteries, which have caught fire unexpectedly. The new battery doesn’t have flammable items inside, and its temperature is easy to control, Segre said.

Elena Timofeeva, an assistant chemist at Argonne, said this technology could also help provide a better way to store and distribute “green” energy from solar and wind farms.

The award is a second recent win for Chicago area green energy research, even as federal budget cuts slash budgets for many universities and national laboratories. In November 2012, Argonne was named the home of a new center charged with developing advanced batteries for electric vehicles and alternative energy sources — a designation that’s expected to bring in as much as $120 million in federal research funds.

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