Research team receives USTAR grant for new lithium battery technology

A research group led by professor Jan D. Miller of the University of Utah’s Department of Metallurgical Engineering has received a $191,700 grant to aid the development and commercialization of a solid polymer electrolyte/electrode technology for lithium batteries.

The Utah Science Technology and Research Initiative awarded the University Technology Acceleration Grant to the Miller group.

Jan D. Miller, professor, Department of Metallurgical Engineering, University of Utah.

The Miller group consists of professor Xuming Wang and graduate student Qinyu Zhu at the University of Utah and professors Jin Liu and Yue Lin from Central South University in Changsha, China.

Project partners include a research team at Brigham Young University led by professor John Harb. Applied Minerals, which has mining operations and laboratories in Utah, is also supporting the project.

Commercial lithium batteries were first introduced in 1991 by the Sony Corporation and are used in a wide range of portable electronic, medical and military devices as well as hybrid and electric vehicles. These lithium batteries can provide multiple usages and have had satisfactory performance; however, liquid electrolytes have, in some instances, demonstrated solvent leakage and flammability.

The Miller group has developed a new nanocomposite material for advanced solid polymer electrolyte and electrode design and fabrication of cathodes for lithium batteries that improves safety, increases energy density and reduces complexity and cost of manufacturing compared to conventional liquid or gel electrolytes currently in use.

A key component of the new electrolyte is halloysite, a super-fine aluminosilicate mineral and natural nanotube material that is a unique Utah resource available from Applied Minerals. The halloysite nanocomposite solid-state electrolyte is a thin, almost transparent membrane that will make possible the use of high energy all solid-state lithium batteries over a wide range of temperatures. 

The Miller group has filed for patents on the halloysite nanotube technology based on preliminary results demonstrating its important advantages.

The university’s Technology & Venture Commercialization (TVC) is currently working with the Miller group on a possible transfer of the technology to a battery manufacturer or to a spin-out company. In the past, TVC has supported the Miller group by conducting marketing research and analysis to determine potential markets for commercialization and with grant writing.

Moving forward, Miller and his group will use the research grant in hopes of delivering a safe, adaptable, high-performing halloysite nanotube solid polymer electrolyte, electrode and corresponding lithium battery for a lower price than what is currently available on the market.

About Technology & Venture Commercialization
Technology & Venture Commercialization manages the university’s intellectual property portfolio, which includes collecting invention disclosures, filing patents, licensing technologies and helping spin-out companies based on university inventions. Its purpose is to transform University of Utah discoveries into practical applications. Since 1970, TVC has spun-out over 270 companies, including NPS Pharmaceuticals, BioFire, Myriad Genetics, Evans and Sutherland and Recursion Pharmaceuticals.

About Utah Science Technology and Research Initiative
The Utah Science Technology and Research (USTAR) Initiative is the State of Utah’s technology catalyst, accelerating the growth of the innovation ecosystem from invention to product development. Guided by Utah’s economic clusters, USTAR supports technology entrepreneurs and innovators through training, funding, incubator and accelerator programs; brokering technology transfer by connecting capital, management and industry; addressing market gaps in Utah’s technology ecosystem and strengthening the state’s research capacity.

About University Technology Acceleration Grant
The purpose of USTAR’s University Technology Acceleration Grant (UTAG) program is to support research and development of specific technologies that have specific commercial potential but need additional development before they can be spun-out from the university setting. This funding addresses an innovation ecosystem gap between federal research dollars and risk capital investment. UTAG is a competitive research grant program, available to individual researchers or ad-hoc teams employed by non-profit Utah-based colleges or universities, to advance the maturity of or de-risk technology that has been developed in university labs. All projects funded through UTAG must have an identified market and/or commercialization path. Anticipated duration of projects will be no more than 18 months, and grant money will be provided in the form of a reimbursement of expenses.

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