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Multifunctional Battery Systems for Electric Vehicles

University of California, San Diego (UC San Diego)
ARPA-E Award: 
La Jolla, CA
Project Term: 
02/19/2014 to 04/28/2017
Project Status: 
Technical Categories: 
Critical Need: 

Driving range, safety, and cost remain the biggest hurdles in the way of mass electric vehicle (EV) adoption. Innovative approaches to EV battery manufacturing present the opportunity to maximize stored energy relative to the weight of EVs, allowing for up to three times the driving range. These new battery chemistries and designs prevent overheating, are immune to catastrophic failure, and can be incorporated into the structure of a vehicle to improve strength in some cases. Much of this can be accomplished at a 30% lower cost compared to conventional batteries, thus bolstering widespread adoption of EVs.

Project Innovation + Advantages: 

The University of California, San Diego (UC San Diego) is developing a new battery that can be built into a vehicle frame. Conventional electric vehicle batteries are constructed independently of chassis, which results in a heavier, more inefficient vehicle. By rethinking auto frame design and incorporating the battery into the frame, vehicles can be cheaper and lighter vehicle. Since conventional batteries require potentially flammable materials, UC San Diego will also explore new chemistries to make this multifunctional battery safe in the event of a collision. This approach may require a complete redesign to the auto frame with consideration of adaptability to future battery technologies.

Potential Impact: 

If successful, UC San Diego's integration of the battery into the vehicle would lower cost and vehicle weight while increasing driving range.


The mass adoption of EVs would diminish the demand for petroleum, dramatically reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil.


Greater use of EVs would reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, 28% of which come from the transportation sector.


Technological advancements from the RANGE program could enable EVs to travel significantly further on a single charge at a much lower cost than that of current EVs and conventional vehicles.

Innovation Update: 

(As of May 2018)
The UCSD team successfully designed a battery pack that passed U.S. Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard tests while reducing the car’s net weight by 136 lbs. At the cell level, the team developed multiple techniques to build battery cells that are more tolerant to abuse. These enhanced safety measures, however, did not reduce the cell’s performance during normal operation and cells maintained their volumetric density. At the end of its ARPA-E project, the team produced a 1kWh battery pack using its safety coating technology, with an energy density of 163Wh/kg at an additional cost of only $0.30/kWh, which constitutes less than 0.2% off current EV storage packs.


The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) is currently testing UCSD’s technology. If successful, the DOD will provide funding to manufacture a 1kWh battery pack using the technology. Additionally, UCSD’s partner, American Lithium Energy, announced the creation of a joint venture company with Bren-Tronics to manufacture the cells. As the technology improves, it could enable commercial battery packs with higher energy density that otherwise could not be used today due to safety concerns.


For a detailed assessment of the UCSD project and impact, please click here.


ARPA-E Program Director: 
Dr. Christopher Atkinson
Project Contact: 
Prof. Yu Qiao
American Lithium Energy, Co.
University of California, Merced
Columbia University
Release Date: