Ford, MEDC partner to create open innovation laboratory

The opening of the University of Michigan Energy Institute’s Battery Fabrication and Characterization User Facility, or Battery Lab, today further expands the Midwest’s rapidly growing battery research and manufacturing capabilities.

The open-access lab will provide space to build and test battery concepts while fully protecting the intellectual property of its users. The lab’s capabilities have already attracted global user interest from startups, established corporations and academics.

The facility is funded with a $2 million investment from U-M, with $5 million in additional financial support from the Michigan Economic Development Corp. and $2.1 million from Ford Motor Co. Sourcing, constructing and installing the lab’s customized research environment—including a low-humidity “dry room”— took 18 months.

During the past two decades, battery technology has progressed slowly while the devices they power—from cell phones to cars to medical implants—have changed wildly. Researchers have been exploring ways to make batteries lighter, more efficient, safer and more cost-effective but, so far, commercialization of new battery technologies has proven elusive.

“We feel confident that we’ve built the nation’s most complete, customized battery research open-user facility. This infrastructure investment is key to achieving the breakthroughs needed to make both electric vehicles and grid storage viable at all the scales needed for the future,” said Mark Barteau, director of the U-M Energy Institute.

“Innovation is our goal,” said Ted Miller, senior manager of energy storage strategy and research at Ford. “We have a vision of accelerating vehicle battery technology and making Michigan the battery capital of the country, and the Battery Lab helps us reach our goal.”

The Battery Lab is designed to meet a defined industry need for pilot-scale battery fabrication, characterization and testing for grid storage, transportation and consumer products. The facility will provide critical infrastructure for the characterization, scale-up and testing of existing and next-generation energy storage materials and devices. The lab will create new capabilities for in-situ characterization of battery materials and devices under working conditions.

Users at the lab will be able to build and characterize several types of batteries. Coin cells, often used as proof-of-concept, can be manufactured here, along with 18650 batteries, similar to the familiar “AA” cylindrical shape used for many small electrical devices. Users may also manufacture 72×110 mm prismatic pouch cells—the type of cell most often used as laptop batteries. Both 18650 and pouch cells are also used in electric vehicles.

The Battery Lab will serve as a base for U-M R&D efforts as a partner in the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research. It will also provide new capability to support the vehicle electrification thrust of the CERC-Clean Vehicles Consortium. Day-to-day operations of the facility will be run by Battery Lab manager Greg Less and Bruno Vanzieleghem, assistant director of operations at the Energy Institute.

PHOTOS FROM THE EVENT

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