New battery test center adds zip to New York economy

David Muller/EMC2/Cornell
Many engineers and chemists work toward better batteries at Cornell. Here, a collage of "before and after" images of catalyst particles from an automotive fuel cell shows simulated years of driving.

Sustainable energy storage loves New York. Replacing the gasoline economy with better batteries may be accelerated thanks to unique battery testing capabilities at Cornell, and anchored by a new testing and prototyping center that the university helped to establish.

The New York Battery and Energy Storage Technology consortium, known as NY-BEST, and energy company DNV GL have opened the state-of-the-art BEST Test and Commercialization Center, a testing facility at the Eastman Business Park in Rochester, New York. The new center offers such services as conducting the validation and independent certification needed to introduce new energy storage technologies into the marketplace, and boost renewable and distributed energy.

“This will vault the New York battery scene onto the national and international energy landscape. Upstate New York can see an entirely new economy, which can focus on creating long-running and large-capacity storage batteries,” said chemist Paul Mutolo, who directs external partnerships at Cornell’s Energy Materials Center. “For batteries, it’s all about safety and durability. Thanks to this new facility, we expect to see incredible strides in battery longevity and reliability.”

Paul Mutolo

Partnered with the new testing facility, the Center for Future Energy Systems – a partnership between Cornell and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute – helps New York companies get access to specialized battery testing with tools unavailable elsewhere. For example, the Cornell High Energy Synchrotron Source (CHESS) can assess battery chemistry in real time inside casings during charging and discharging. Electron microscopes also can examine the chemical properties contained within battery cells.  This information is critical to improving batteries for tomorrow’s applications.

Startup companies have begun to take advantage of the battery business atmosphere. For example, NOHMS, founded in the laboratory of Cornell chemical engineering professor Lynden Archer, produces lithium-sulfur cells – which have the potential to rival the energy density of gasoline-powered engines and to deliver more power than today’s lithium-ion batteries.

Another startup founded at Cornell, Lionano Inc., advances replacement anode material for lithium-ion batteries, which increase capacity, prolong battery durability and reduce charging time – with more safety features – for about one-fifth the cost of current material.

Beyond transportation, Mutolo said this technology could improve electricity grid resiliency; as Superstorm Sandy displayed, there needs to be more storage battery capacity on the grid, he said. The $23 million center is funded by the New York State Energy Research Development Authority (NYSERDA), $5.9 million, Empire State Development, $1 million, and DNV GL, $16 million. DNV GL is relocating its energy storage testing facility to this center in New York from Pennsylvania.

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Melissa Osgood