RIT’s $1.5 million Battery Prototyping Center officially opened for business in March. The center is another resource in New York state’s growing energy storage hub and was made possible by support from New York State Energy and Research Development Authority (NYSERDA), Empire State Development (ESD), and the New York Battery and Energy Storage Technology Consortium (NY-BEST).
“We are excited to be a resource for academic researchers, startups, and established companies who believe they have a promising solution for battery materials,” said Ryne Raffaelle, RIT vice president for research and associate provost. “The Battery Prototyping Center will be an important step for them as they test and validate their ideas that could ultimately lead to commercialization.”
William Acker, executive director of NY-BEST said, “We are creating a strong energy storage ecosystem in New York state. From R&D to manufacturing, New York state has unique and valuable assets and resources to support the growth of the energy storage industry. This important industry is transforming two major sectors of our economy—transportation and electricity—into cleaner and more efficient industries. By providing the expert resources needed to develop new advanced batteries, RIT's Battery Prototyping Center will play a pivotal part in that transformation.”
The center will work with companies and universities in prototyping the next generation of batteries, including lithium ion batteries.
“We are that bridge for companies to help them move from the concept stage in a laboratory to a working prototype,” said Christopher Schauerman, co-director of the center and RIT research scientist. “The goal is to avoid that valley of death in the commercialization stage and help them bring their next generation batteries to mass production.”
Currently, the center can prototype pouch-cell-size batteries that resemble those found in cell phones. It’s an open user facility that gives companies and researchers access to a dry room and laboratory space for a fee. Companies also have the option of providing their materials and assembly formula to center personnel who would build the battery based on the company’s specifications.
“This is a fee-for-service laboratory that anyone can use,” said Matthew Ganter, center co-director and RIT research scientist. “It’s a great resource
for startups and university researchers who can’t afford to purchase this equipment or who would not otherwise have access to a facility like this.”
There are only a handful of facilities in the country that offer similar prototyping capabilities, including Argonne National Laboratory outside of Chicago and the Battery Innovation Center in Indiana.
Even with the Battery Prototyping Center in its infancy stage, Ganter and Schauerman have already had interest from more than 50 companies and universities around the world, including Russia, the United Kingdom, and Canada.
The 2,000-square-foot facility is located on the fourth floor of RIT’s Institute Hall and features a 1,000-square-foot state-of-the-art dry room. Keeping moisture and humidity out is essential for battery performance so the relative humidity in the dry room is less than 0.5 percent. On one side of the dry room is the semi-automated prototyping equipment line.
“It’s a pilot line production facility that can produce commercial quality cells,” said Ganter. “The equipment can precisely stack dozens of layers of material. This is much more efficient and reliable than someone working in a laboratory attempting to stack the layers by hand.”
SoLith, an Italian company specializing in battery manufacturing testing equipment, manufactured most of the center’s equipment.
Once the battery materials are stacked, they are then tested in one of two environmental chambers where their performance can be measured under extreme conditions.
“The chamber is a combination refrigerator and oven so it can do both heating and cooling to test the cell’s performance at various temperatures from minus 45 degrees Celsius up to 190 degrees Celsius,” said Schauerman.
The dry room is broken up into two areas with the other side set up as a laboratory space for those who want to test battery materials and chemistries in a moisture-free environment. The division of the dry room allows more than one company to use the space at one time
and eases concerns about the security of the inventor’s intellectual property.
The center is currently equipped to produce cell-phone-size batteries, but future applications could include prototyping electric car batteries.
“We would like to bring in another line with larger form factors so we could assemble batteries that are similar to those in the Nissan Leaf
or Chevy Volt,” said Schauerman.
After the prototypes are made at RIT, companies and researchers can take their technology to the nearby BEST Test and Commercialization Center in Eastman Business Park in Rochester to test the viability and performance of their batteries.
RIT’s center will be used not only by companies, but by its own faculty and student researchers. Ganter and Schauerman both earned their doctoral degrees from RIT’s sustainability program. They continue to do their own research on battery innovations and plan to work side by side with students at the center who want hands-on experience in manufacturing batteries for this emerging industry.
Added Ganter, “My Ph.D. dissertation focused on creating better and more sustainable battery technologies, so there is a direct link between my education here and the work we are currently doing at the Battery Prototyping Center.”