Faculty Name:
Roseanne Warren

Mechanical Engineering

Faculty College:


Project Description:

**This project is a part of the Summer Program for Undergraduate Research (SPUR), which provides undergraduate students with an intensive 10-week research experience under the mentorship of a University of Utah faculty member. SPUR 2021 begins on May 26 and ends on August 5. If you are interested in this project, please review all program information on the SPUR site. If you wish to apply to this project, you must apply using the SPUR 2021 application.**

The development of low-cost energy storage technologies is of critical importance for large-scale implementation of renewable energy, including wind and solar power. Batteries are a promising technology for grid-scale energy storage because of their high energy density and ability to be implemented in any location (unlike “site-specific” energy storage options such as pumped hydro). The current price of lithium-ion batteries is approximately $400/kWh, far exceeding the price target of $2-$80/kWh for grid-scale energy storage set by the US Department of Energy. Sodium-ion batteries are a promising, lower-cost alternative to lithium-ion batteries, however widespread implementation of sodium-ion batteries is currently limited by a lack of low cost, high energy density anode materials. The goal of this research is to explore the use of an ultra-low-cost carbon source–coal char–as a novel material for sodium-ion battery anodes. Utah has abundant coal resources that have traditionally been burned for power generation. As alternative energy resources (e.g. natural gas, solar, and wind) replace coal power generation, considerable research efforts are focused on finding alternative uses for Utah coal. Battery anodes made from coal char represent an exceptional high-value opportunity for Utah coal, with coal raw material costing approximately $0.01-$0.03/kg, and commercial carbon battery anodes valued at approximately $12.50/kg. In this research project, we are testing the effects of various post-processing methods on the sodium-ion battery performance of Utah coal char, with the goal of maximizing energy density for coal-derived anodes.

Opportunity Type:

This is a paid research position

Student Role:

The undergraduate student researcher will participate in all aspects of the project, including: reviewing relevant scientific research papers; conducting post-processing of coal powders (e.g. washing, heating, grinding); materials characterization using electron microscopy and X-ray spectroscopy techniques; assembling battery coin cells in a glove box; testing the assembled coin cells; data analysis; writing reports; and presenting results at research group meetings. A typical day will involve time spent in the lab conducting experiments (~5-6 hours), time spent documenting and analyzing results for the day (~1-2 hours), and regular meetings with Prof. Warren and the project graduate students. The undergraduate researcher will also be invited to participate in all general research and social activities of the lab group. Remote Contingency Plan: The proposed research project requires the student to conduct on-campus lab work. In the event that this is not possible, an alternative project is available that involves battery simulation. This work can be conducted entirely remotely. Lithium-ion batteries (LIBs) have become the standard for electrochemical energy storage in consumer electronics and electric vehicles because of their high energy and long cycle life. Although energy storage capacity, cycle life, and cost are of primary importance for LIBs, there is growing interest and concern regarding the overall life cycle environmental impacts of LIBs. This topic has become increasingly important due to the rapid growth of the worldwide LIB market and the accompanying surge in LIB materials extraction, production, and disposal. Life cycle assessment (LCA) is a powerful methodology that seeks to quantify the environmental impacts of a product’s materials, manufacturing, use, and disposal across a range of impact categories. In this research project, we are exploring the use of first-principles electrochemical modeling integrated with battery life cycle assessment to determine optimum cell designs that minimize LIB life cycle environmental impacts. For this SPUR experience, the undergraduate research student will work with a graduate student in PI Warren’s lab to conduct battery life cycle assessment modeling and design. The learning outcomes for this contingency project are the same as those for the main project, with the exception of learning objective #3 (“Conduct laboratory experiments in the field of battery research” will be replaced with “Set-up and run electrochemical and life cycle assessment models of batteries”).

Student Benefits:

Through their work on this summer research project, the undergraduate student is expected to learn how to: Articulate a research question and hypothesis; Design an experimental plan to answer the research question that can be completed in approximately 2 months; Conduct laboratory experiments in the field of battery research; Analyze and present research results; Critically read and interpret scientific literature, including placing their current research question within the context of existing knowledge; Write a research paper summarizing their findings. Following their summer research experience, it is expected that the student will be well-prepared to apply for graduate studies in engineering or science.

Project Duration:

35-40 hours per week on research and program-related activities, begins May 26, 2021, and ends August 5, 2021

Minimum Requirements:

Admission to the program is competitive. Applicants must meet all of the following criteria: 1) be a matriculated, degree-seeking undergraduate student in the Fall 2021 semester (beginning or continuing college career in Fall 2021 and not graduating before December 2021; concurrent enrollment while in high school does not meet this eligibility requirement). Applicants do not need to be a University of Utah student. 2) eligible to work in the United States: If you are a University of Utah Dreamer (with or without DACA), you are eligible to participate. If you are a Dreamer from a different institution: If you have DACA, you are eligible to participate. If you do not have DACA, you are able to participate and gain research experience, but might not be able to be compensated. For more information, please contact Megan Shannahan at megan.shannahan@utah.edu or 801-581-2478. If you are an international student or scholar, you must either a) be a degree-seeking undergraduate student at an American institution of higher education and verify with your institution’s international center that your visa allows you to participate in this program, OR b) possess documentation that establishes your eligibility to work in the United States (if you hold US citizenship, it is likely you have these documents). 3) able to commit to approximately 35-40 hours per week of employment at the University of Utah for the entire duration of the program (May 26-August 5, 2021). 4) at least 18 years old by May 24, 2021 (required if you wish to use on-campus housing; preferred if you will not be using on-campus housing). Please note that no previous college coursework or previous research experience is required.