The Army awards the University of Maryland $7.2 million to solve battery technologies limitations
Batteries are integral to future military operations. Infantrymen coordinate fires over the radio during an exercise Nov. 14, 2019, at Pohakuloa Training Area, Hawaii.
Batteries are integral to future military operations. Infantrymen coordinate fires over the radio during an exercise Nov. 14, 2019, at Pohakuloa Training Area, Hawaii. (Photo Credit: Sgt. Effie Mahugh) VIEW ORIGINAL

ADELPHI, Md. -- The U.S. Army awarded $7.2 million to the University of Maryland to lead an alliance of the nation’s top battery researchers, further propelling battery advancements.

The cooperative agreement is the latest Army research campaign on extreme battery technology.

The U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Army Research Laboratory will work on the UMD-led effort, in partnership with Montana State University, and other universities, national laboratories and companies, which are part of the Center for Research in Extreme Batteries.

Prof. Eric Wachsman, director of the Maryland Energy Innovation Institute and the William L. Crentz Centennial Chair in Energy Research, and Prof. Chunsheng Wang, director of CREB and the Wright Distinguished Chair of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering, will lead the effort for UMD. Prof. Lee Spangler, director of the MSU Energy Research Institute, will lead the effort for MSU.

“The Army is looking to add a wide range of diverse new capabilities in the next five to 10 years,” said Dr. Jeffrey Read, an Army chemist and one of the team leaders for the laboratory’s Battery Science Branch. “The amount of power and energy required for the average Soldier is going to increase dramatically when these systems are fielded, so batteries become critical.”

This effort also includes Argonne National Laboratory, Brookhaven National Laboratory, the National Institute of Standards & Technology, Graphenix Development Inc., Ion Storage Systems, the New York Battery & Energy Storage Consortium, Saft America, Stony Brook University and the University of Texas-Austin.

According to Read, future Soldiers will depend on numerous electronic devices to complete their mission.

These technologies, which will include secure tactical radios; goggles with thermal and low-light sensors, rapid target acquisition and aided target identification, augmented reality and artificial intelligence; the next-generation combat rifle; unmanned aircraft systems; counter-IED equipment and more, rely on large amounts of battery power that Soldiers have to carry with them to the battlefield.

A typical current 72-hour mission requires each Soldier to carry more than 20 pounds of batteries on top of their already-heavy combat gear and the future advanced equipment will require significantly more energy and power.

In order to advance beyond the current limitations of modern battery technologies, the agreement will pursue several research themes that explore the full extent of a battery’s capabilities, including:

·     Extreme Charging – to facilitate the rapid return of critical Army systems to battlefield readiness

·     Extreme Safety – to reduce or eliminate the flammability/explosive risk of batteries to the warfighter

·     Extreme Voltages – to enable batteries which can be charged to higher voltages to achieve a higher energy density and thus reduce the battery mass burden for the warfighter

·     Extreme Evaluations – to better understand the inner workings of batteries and their degradation mechanisms, thus facilitate the transitioning of advanced battery materials from basic research into the commercial cells used for Army batteries

·     Extreme Transformational Innovations – to further enable these Extreme capabilities and promote the development of new materials and novel battery designs such as solid-state lithium batteries

In addition to these target goals, researchers will also examine existing battery systems and modify them to better suit the Army’s needs.

“Soldiers use batteries differently from the standard practices of everyday users,” Read said. “Army batteries are stored fully-charged for long periods of time. When used, they are often fully depleted (fully-discharged). The environments in which they are stored and used are often much hotter or colder. All of this is extremely hard on the inner chemistry making the batteries function. Part of the work is to try to evaluate commercial batteries or new battery systems in a way that is more reflective of how the Army uses batteries.”

By assembling together in this consortium effort many of the top battery researchers in academia, industry and government laboratories within the U.S., this agreement aims to rapidly accelerate the progress of battery research to better enable Soldiers to retain transformational overmatch capabilities over their future near-peer adversaries.

“The Army is rapidly increasing its usage of batteries for diverse applications, including portable soldiers systems, unmanned vehicles, hybridized next-generation combat vehicles, directed energy systems and more,” said Dr. Wesley Henderson, the laboratory’s lead for CREB. “The focal themes for this collaborative effort bring together many of the top battery researchers throughout the U.S. to directly address the most challenging barriers to implementing the transformation of the present Army into the future Army needed for longer duration missions with more electrified devices, a limited resupply of batteries due to restricted logistics and the larger battery systems essential for enabling new capabilities.”

This agreement represents only one of many collaborative efforts that the laboratory oversees as part of its Open Campus Initiative. Throughout the duration of this program, the lab will directly assist with the research, as well as facilitating the interactions between the collaborators.

“ARL battery scientists will be working closely with many of the projects through direct research interactions and, in some cases, supervision and mentoring of student and postdoctoral fellow researchers,” Henderson said. “As the CA manager, I will also be closely supervising the work conducted and aiding the researchers in interfacing with the Army scientists and engineers, as well as with each other.”
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CCDC Army Research Laboratory is an element of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command. As the Army’s corporate research laboratory, ARL is operationalizing science to achieve transformational overmatch. Through collaboration across the command’s core technical competencies, CCDC leads in the discovery, development and delivery of the technology-based capabilities required to make Soldiers more successful at winning the nation’s wars and come home safely. CCDC is a major subordinate command of the Army Futures Command.