Application

Electrochemical engineering is the application of chemical engineering to problems where thermodynamics, kinetics, and transport of electrons and ions are important. Research at BYU includes work on lithium-ion batteries, micro- and nano-sized batteries, fuel cells, electrodeposition, nanocircuits, and molecular simulations. Graduates with skills in these areas are in high demand, as solving electrochemical problems is often critical in bringing needed technologies into practical use.

Micro- and nano-fabricated electrochemical devices

Faculty: John N. Harb

Lithium-ion batteries are great energy storage devices. This is why they are used ubiquitously in mobile phones and laptop computers. However, there are a number of challenges to adapting these batteries for use in hybrid- and fully-electric vehicles. In particular, we need a cheap, abuse- tolerant, and long-life battery stack that can generate a large amount of specific power. Our work in this area is to engineer improved electrode morphologies in order to promote battery power and life. In addition, we perform experiments and computer simulations in order to obtain ionic and electronic transport properties in battery components. This work is supported by the U.S. Department of Energy through the BATT program.

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High-power lithium-ion batteries

Faculty: Dean R. Wheeler

Lithium-ion batteries are great energy storage devices. This is why they are used ubiquitously in mobile phones and laptop computers. However, there are a number of challenges to adapting these batteries for use in hybrid- and fully-electric vehicles. In particular, we need a cheap, abuse-tolerant, and long-life battery stack that can generate a large amount of specific power. Our work in this area is to engineer improved electrode morphologies in order to promote battery power and life. In addition, we perform experiments and computer simulations in order to obtain ionic and electronic transport properties in battery components. This work is supported by the U.S. Department of Energy through the BATT program.

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Alkaline batteries

Faculty: Dean R. Wheeler

We are using electron microscopy, transport experiments, and computer modeling to understand the performance of Zn/MnO2 alkaline cells. The microstructure of the MnO2 cathodes is similar to that for lithium-ion batteries, namely a collection of particles with carbon additive to improve electronic conductivity and pores to allow ionic conductivity, and so much of the expertise we apply to lithium-ion batteries can be used to examine alkaline cells as well.

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Direct carbohydrate fuel cell

Faculty: Dean R. Wheeler

Glucose and other carbohydrates are among the most abundant and renewable sources of energy in the world. Yet, there has been a longstanding unmet need to utilize efficiently such biologically based sources of energy in batteries and fuel cells. As part of a team of researchers (chemical engineering and chemistry) we recently uncovered a class of organic catalysts that are able to extract electrical energy from a variety of carbohydrate fuels (i.e. sugars) to a degree that has not previously been reported. This catalyst system has the potential to operate at low temperatures and relatively high efficiencies, while avoiding use of expensive noble metals (like platinum) as do competing fuel cell technologies. Our best catalyst, methyl viologen, is also used industrially as an herbicide, and so is inexpensive and widely available. The promise of these catalysts is to enable a new type of fuel cell that can directly power remote and portable electrical devices from biologically derived fuels. Current work is to improve the performance of this catalyst system and bring a new type of fuel cell product to market. This work is supported by the National Science Foundation.

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Flow batteries for massive energy storage

Faculty: Dean R. Wheeler

Temporary storage of large amounts of electrical energy is needed for increased use of intermittent sources such as solar and wind. Flow batteries are considered a good way to accomplish this. We are developing new redox couples that will enable cheap and reliable energy storage.

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