The increasing demand for electric vehicles and cell phones has accelerated the need for safer energy storage after numerous instances of commercial lithium-ion batteries overheating and catching fire.

Peng Bai, assistant professor of energy, environmental & chemical engineering in the McKelvey School of Engineering at Washington University in St. Louis, has received a three-year, $355,630 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to study solid-state electrolytes, which are a safer alternative to the liquid electrolytes used in lithium-ion batteries. With the funding, he plans to investigate the electrochemical processes that take place during battery recharge before hazardous lithium metal penetrations occur, particularly looking at the relationship between the applied current and the charging time. 

Although the solid-state electrolytes, such as ceramic pellets, are not flammable, lithium metal penetrations can still occur to short-circuit the battery. Bai, who focuses his research on the precision understanding and engineering of next-generation batteries, will design and fabricate special solid-state batteries to study the transport and interfacial dynamics that limit the coupled electrochemical performance, such as highest charging current and storage capacity. 

“What we learn from this project will help prevent the incubation of the metal penetration and allow for the design of safe and efficient solid-state lithium metal batteries,” Bai said. 

This NSF project will support Bai in offering summer educational and research opportunities to K-12 teachers and students to introduce materials science related to next-generation batteries. Bai also plans to make videos of their innovative experiments available online for students and the public.


The McKelvey School of Engineering at Washington University in St. Louis promotes independent inquiry and education with an emphasis on scientific excellence, innovation and collaboration without boundaries. McKelvey Engineering has top-ranked research and graduate programs across departments, particularly in biomedical engineering, environmental engineering and computing, and has one of the most selective undergraduate programs in the country. With 165 full-time faculty, 1,420 undergraduate students, 1,614 graduate students and 21,000 living alumni, we are working to solve some of society’s greatest challenges; to prepare students to become leaders and innovate throughout their careers; and to be a catalyst of economic development for the St. Louis region and beyond.

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