Time scales for the technology also are important, Dr. Sastry said. “People who do computational experimental work have to worry a lot about time constants and how long it takes to derive the parameters that tell us how a system is going to behave.” Such battery factors as cycle life “can really only be understood if you understand the scale at which things are breaking down or occurring inside the battery cell,” she explained.
Different expertise is needed to work on all of these problems simultaneously, Dr. Sastry said. “You want people who understand diffusion, who understand kinetics, who understand heat transfer and thermal effects, and people who understand mechanics,” she explained. “To put these equations and experiments together is not trivial.”
Her program has spent more than a decade and millions of dollars to get this far, Dr. Sastry said. The team now can “predict pretty satisfactorily” factors such as capacity, the effects of thermal cycling, and off-gassing, “but we have a long way to go,” she said. These numerical simulations influence the cost and choices of technology.
Research in manufacturing systems “that are fungible across platforms” also need support, Dr. Sastry said. “Unless the government funds approaches that can make many types of chemistries, we will fail to develop the variety of battery cells that meet the variety of needs the Army team so ably talked about.” Many interesting partnerships will follow, Dr. Sastry predicted. “Big companies will act like small innovators and vice-versa,” she said. “Universities and industry will adopt new roles.”
Regarding Sakti3, the company she helped found at the University of Michigan, Dr. Sastry noted that Henry Ford started Ford Motor from the winnings of a race. “The immutable dominance of existing big companies is not inevitable,” she said. “All of these big companies started out small. And it is something that America is particularly good at doing. And it’s something that America relies upon.”
It is very important that the U.S. government support innovations coming out of America’s national labs and universities, Dr. Sastry said. It also is important that “we grow new manufacturing approaches” to make new chemistries in a “manufacturable and cost-effective way,” she said.