New center to focus on battery, energy storage technology

A new research center has been created at Penn State to confront the growing challenges in sustainable energy production and storage. The Battery and Energy Storage Technology (BEST) Center, co-directed by Chris Rahn, professor of mechanical engineering, and Chao-Yang Wang, William E. Diefenderfer chair of mechanical engineering, will focus on addressing energy storage technologies for vehicle electrification, renewable energy and smart grids.

The center will be the first of its kind in the country to lead clean energy research and education. Research in energy storage is currently growing in importance, as it has implications in the efficiency and effectiveness of current power systems, the feasibility of large-scale intermittent renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power and the efficiency of sustainable ground transportation technologies.

"Researchers in the Penn State BEST Center are at the leading edge of science and engineering in this vital technology," said Henry Foley, vice president for research.

According to Foley, there are several pieces to the energy storage puzzle, including large-scale storage for more efficient buildings, batteries and ultracapacitors for electric engine performance in automobiles and economical mass production methods for all these technologies.

"The BEST Center is the only academic lab in the United States that can work on all these issues simultaneously as opposed to other labs that work on smaller, separate pieces of the overall electric energy storage problem," said Foley.

A University-wide, multidisciplinary initiative, the BEST Center includes faculty from the College of Engineering, the Eberly College of Science and the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences.

The University has allocated more than 10,000 square feet of space in the former Materials Research Laboratory to synergize the efforts among the researchers associated with the center. Many of the faculty participants will be located in this building, enhancing collaboration and idea generation.

"Bringing together such diverse expertise under one roof within the BEST Center is an exciting opportunity for novel education and research in this important field," said Rahn.

The formation of the BEST Center coincides with the opening of the Battery Manufacturing Laboratory (BML), which is capable of manufacturing experimental lithium ion and other high-energy density batteries. The BML is the only laboratory in the U.S. that allows researchers to fabricate automotive batteries from scratch, allowing research into and development of new materials and battery designs that improve performance, cycle life and cost.

"The BML will enable our researchers to create innovation and enable our students to gain hands-on, cutting-edge experience so they can compete globally," said Wang.

The BML will be a showcase for BEST Center research, providing a test bed that links energy storage research and researchers from materials to devices to systems.

Researchers in the BML are currently working on a grid-scale energy storage project funded by the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy and in collaboration with Proton Energy Systems, in which Penn Staters are developing and testing alkaline membrane-electrode assembly for a reversible electrochemical storage system currently under development. This project aims to provide clean and efficient energy storage for intermittent solar and wind sources.

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Last Updated March 01, 2011