the promise of getting cost out of the product really shouldn’t be investigated,” she said. “The counterpoint to that is that we have to invest very heavily in new manufacturing technologies.”
The Advanced Materials Systems Laboratory works with many partners around the world, Dr. Sastry explained. Partners include the DoE, the National Science Foundation, LG Chem, GM Mainz Kastel, AND Technology, Oak Ridge National Laboratories, and Ford. “We are friends with everybody,” she said. “It is really important to do that, because all of the partners have a set of particular skills that are necessary to the problem.”
Because her lab is connected to a university, it has the power to convene people and make proposals that bring people together, Dr. Sastry pointed out. If companies in the industry are not one of her lab’s partners, they should join or find another group to join, she said. “The adjacent areas are very important in regularizing electric vehicles.”
The University of Michigan was one of the first to invest in research and education aimed at improving lithium-ion cells and battery packs, she said. Until recently, however, there hadn’t been a strong motive for universities and car companies to work together. “We weren’t on the cusp of commercializing the technology,” Dr. Sastry explained. As the technology improves and the industry grows, “we see greater impetus for these groups to work together.”
Dr. Sastry founded the first Energy Systems Engineering program in the U.S. It began with nine students in 2007 and had more than 200 enrolled as of Sept. 1, 2010. “We were very proud of what we accomplished in three or four years,” she said. Dr. Sastry recently handed over leadership of that program to focus on other things, she said.
The University of Michigan has joined with GM and the U.S. Advanced Battery Coalition to address all aspects of the electric power train. It conducts basic research to understand why materials fail, for example, and to develop controls algorithms. The ultimate goal is to get those controls algorithms into vehicles, Dr. Sastry said. “So if you do it right, at the vehicle scale you are using computational training that goes all the way to the atomistic and micro scale in the battery cell,” she explained. “That takes a lot of different people.”
The “technology story is important,” Dr. Sastry says, “because it tells you why all of these groups have to work together.” The physics of battery chemistries and electrochemical cycling “are not trivial,” she explained. “Even though you can write down the kinetics in a straightforward way, the reality is that it is a combination of mechanics, thermal effects, heat transfer, kinetics, and a whole host of other disciplines that are required to build simulations that allow us to say how long a battery cell will live and how well it will cycle.” These simulations also predict a cell’s capacity and the effect of temperature.
Part of what makes the undertaking difficult is “the science of how to put all those people together and execute,” Dr. Sastry said. Michigan, which has more than 70 people involved in the various institutions and national laboratories, spends a lot of time bringing the right people together, she added.