ARPA-E Awardee PARC Aims to Change the Way We Think About Batteries

ARPA-E Awardee PARC Aims to Change the Way We Think About Batteries

We recently sat down with Dr. Eric Shrader, the principal investigator of PARC’s battery co-extrusion project, to talk innovation, reforming the electric vehicle (EV) industry, and changing the way we think about batteries.

Tell us a little about your background and how you arrived at PARC.

I spent most of my career working in printing research. I started work at SRI International, did a lot of work in inkjet printing, founded a startup company during the dot-com boom, and then came to PARC at about the time PARC was spinning out of Xerox. At that point, PARC was ready to look at other applications for its printing technology. So there was a lot of exciting technology and know-how at PARC, and we were poised to be able to use that technology and know-how for other things like this project.

Your project aims to reduce manufacturing costs and improve overall battery performance for Li-ion batteries. How will this innovative design increase the battery’s overall energy storage?

First, it’s important to step back and think a little bit about how batteries are optimized now. There’s always a tradeoff in battery design between energy performance and power performance. We’re developing a design that gives you another lever to adjust those two parameters.

Traditionally, Li-Ion manufacturers make each layer of the battery separately and then integrate the layers together. PARC is working to manufacture a Li-ion battery by printing each layer simultaneously into an integrated battery, streamlining the manufacturing process.

How could this printing process transform the industry? Do you foresee it being used in other energy applications?

I think this technology is transformative because it leverages all of the improvements that have been made in battery manufacturing thus far. Most of the research in batteries today centers on chemistry and materials, so there has been a lot of improvement in both the actual chemistry and the processing of the materials to make them more efficient. This project operates on top of all those advancements; that’s why it’s a very broad-based, transformative idea. It doesn’t just apply to a particular lithium chemistry that you might use in automobiles. As far as other applications, we’ve already used the technology in solar, and we’ve thought about using it for fuel cells as well.

What are the biggest challenges of this project, and how are you trying to overcome them?

One of the biggest challenges is in scaling, so we think a lot about how we get from what we’re able to do on the lab scale to making it viable at the commercial scale. We’re also aiming at cost reduction: by printing all three battery layers at once, we lower the energy yield loss and the amount of material wasted.

Can you talk about why you thought that this project would be perfect for a partnership with ARPA-E?

Well, we already had some of the pieces in place for co-extrusion in batteries, and had been talking to commercial partners about them, but they weren’t really willing to undertake the additional risk associated with the project. I think the ARPA-E partnership is perfect because it will probably de-risk it enough for commercial partners to say “we get it, it does really work.”

You touched on this a little, but what would be your ideal next step or end goal for this project? 

One of the nice things about the PARC/ARPA-E partnership is that PARC’s business model is all about getting things out into the world. It fits very well into our business model to partner with companies that are already producing batteries, or investors who want to start companies producing batteries. Our ideal next step for this project is to license this to a battery manufacturer in the U.S. to produce EV batteries, because that’s where the real payoff is for us. This is a really good opportunity for us to revitalize the battery industry in the US: the rest of the world is somewhat ahead of us in producing batteries for other applications, but as far as EV batteries go, the field is still open enough that there are a lot of ways for US companies to compete and we’re trying to help make that happen. 

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As of 2016: For a detailed assessment of the PARC team's project and impact, please check out their ARPA-E "Impact Sheet".