For Paul Albertus, associate director of MEI2 and assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, the partnership is amplifying his work and research, sharing the rewards well beyond Maryland’s borders with a view towards strengthening international relationships. He arrived at UMD in January 2019 after serving as a program director at ARPA-e, and—wasting no time—launched into discussions with researchers around campus about their ideas. That fall, after connecting with colleagues in Israel, Albertus took the lead on developing a proposal for a call issued by BIRD.
In March 2020, a team of researchers including Albertus and Wachsman, companies including Maryland-based Saft and Forge Nano, and partners at Tel Aviv and Bar Ilan universities in Israel were awarded $18.4 million by BIRD and the U.S.-Israel Energy Center. The five-year program will investigate the safety, efficiency, cost, and use cases of solid-state lithium and sodium batteries.
A total of eight organizations are involved—four in the U.S., including Ion Storage Systems, and four in Israel. Each of the partners brings a unique expertise to the questions the collaboration seeks to answer: Saft has particular expertise in aerospace, for example. The funding also allows university researchers to pursue fundamental science to answer questions about function and safety.
“A lot of important science hasn’t been done yet for solid-state batteries,” Albertus says. “There are key questions of degradation and failure that are really important to whether these kinds of batteries can make it to commercialization.”
And because the U.S. side of the effort is spearheaded by the University of Maryland, the presence of the MEI2 ecosystem on campus adds a suite of capacities and abilities to the effort.
“There is a lot of connective tissue between energy-related centers on campus, and a lot of institutional experience and knowledge working within these larger structures,” Albertus says. “There’s a lot of openness and experience for how these things work, both on the proposal side as well as how to execute it.”