Louisiana Tech team works with Louisiana-based consortium to improve space flight energy storage systems

Sep 15, 2021 | Engineering and Science, Faculty/Staff, Research

Research developed at Louisiana Tech University may soon find its way into space.

Dr. Shawn Chen, Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering for Louisiana Tech’s College of Engineering and Science and Institute for Micromanufacturing, and Dr. Kristopher Harris, Assistant Professor of Chemistry, have begun research into improved energy storage systems, making space flight safer for astronauts, and extending their potential exploration radius within the solar system.

Chen and Harris are working with a consortium of Louisiana researchers to provide the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) with a better, more efficient means of storing energy for long space flights. By improving power storage technology, the Tech team and their colleagues around Louisiana will develop an ultra-high-capacity battery that is safe for travel in low-temperature and radiation laden environments as part of a NASA EPSCoR (Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research) grant.

Chen, Harris, and two Louisiana Tech doctoral students will work with researchers from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette (ULL) and Louisiana State University, as well as Glenn Research Center and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, General Motors, and IBM on high-capacity anode development and testing, performance evaluation in a simulated space environment, and independent validations of the materials and batteries developed by the team.

Over three years, the Louisiana Tech team will develop a physics-based multiscale modeling framework to predict the long-term performance stability of the proposed batteries and use the University’s new Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy facility to study proposed battery components as they change over time. As the Tech teams study the lithium metal/solid electrolyte interface behaviors during the plating process and the behaviors of the local battery structures, they will develop new processes and provide insight into microstructure design and defect engineering strategies for improved interface stability and cell performance.

The final product from the consortium will be a robust, solid-state electrolyte to promote uniform lithium plating that suppresses the formation of dendrites and prevents thermal runaway for safer, more efficient battery power on exploratory NASA missions.

Energy storage technology affects every aspect of a space flight, including the spacesuits that astronauts wear. Inefficient battery power can be dangerous, as it can prevent proper cooling, ventilation, and biomedical measurements. Because planetary missions will involve potential exploration in extreme environments, power sources must be able to withstand high levels of radiation as well as very high and very low temperatures. Through these battery improvements, this collaboration will provide safer, greener energy that will impact NASA and the energy storage sector for years to come.

“This award supports collaboration between researchers with complementary expertise and impressive accomplishments to benefit future space missions,” said Dr. Ramu Ramachandran, Associate Vice President for Research at Louisiana Tech, Dean of the University’s Graduate School, and Director of the Institute for Micromanufacturing. “The recent acquisition of sophisticated new research instrumentation at Tech and ULL for solid state battery research will support this project, strengthen the collaboration between the two institutions, and generate exciting new advances.”

Dr. Hisham Hegab, Dean of the College of Engineering and Science, said the results of this research will impact areas beyond space exploration.

“The work that Dr. Chen and Dr. Harris are doing with research partners throughout Louisiana could lay the groundwork for more clean energy research and technologies, as well as helping NASA develop new technologies for future launches,” Hegab said. “I look forward to seeing the results of these collaborative efforts and am excited that Louisiana Tech and the College of Engineering and Science will have a role in redefining space travel.”