Plug-in electric vehicles (EVs) began hitting the wider U.S. market in late 2010. By late 2022, plug-in electric vehicles comprised more than seven percent of all light-duty vehicle sales, with that share tripling just over the last couple of years. That fact comes courtesy of the Department of Energy’s Vehicle Technologies Office (VTO), which recently issued two Annual Merit Review Awards to researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) for their contributions to research areas that are crucial for the continued expansion of EVs.
Wu Xu, a chief scientist in the Electrochemical Materials and Systems Group in PNNL’s Energy Processes and Materials Division, won the first award, with the VTO recognizing Xu for “world-class research on electrolytes for Li-based batteries pushing the boundaries of advanced electrochemical energy storage for vehicles.”
The lithium-ion batteries that power electric vehicles rely on an electrolyte—commonly in liquid form—that ferries the lithium ions between the battery’s anode and cathode, enabling charging and discharging. Improved electrolytes can have benefits for EV battery efficiency and performance, as well as enable next-generation battery technologies. With more than 25 years’ experience in the field, Wu is a recognized leader in battery research innovation for EVs. His work is particularly important now: EVs powered by advanced battery technologies are playing a critical role as the world seeks economically feasible paths toward decarbonization and climate change mitigation.
The second award went to PNNL’s Shear Assisted Processing and Extrusion (ShAPE) program for its contributions to decreasing the weight of vehicle components. Lightweighting has been long been a priority in the automotive community—a lighter vehicle can travel farther with the same fuel or charge—but it has been a particular emphasis for electric-only vehicles, which tend to have shorter ranges than combustion-engine vehicles. Using newly developed processing techniques, the PNNL team fabricated prototypical components with locally modified mechanical properties that can perform more than one function. This multi-functionality enables less material to be used—which, in turn, reduces weight.
The award recognizes PNNL’s ShAPE program for achieving selective modification of aluminum extrusions during the manufacturing process. The team locally modified stiffness by modulating wall thickness along the extrusion length while simultaneously manipulating temperature to tailor strength and energy absorption. The process improvements resulted in an ability to control material thickness along the length of an extrusion, which helps engineer better energy absorption into a part.
The awards were presented by Sarah Ollila, acting deputy director for the VTO, during the office’s 2023 Annual Merit Review Plenary Session.