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ARPA-E Program Takes an Innovative Approach to Electric Vehicle Batteries

September 4, 2013 - 1:29pm

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Dr. Ping Liu of ARPA-E discusses the RANGE program and its innovative approach to energy storage for electric vehicles. | Photo courtesy of ARPA-E.

Dr. Ping Liu of ARPA-E discusses the RANGE program and its innovative approach to energy storage for electric vehicles. | Photo courtesy of ARPA-E.

Editor’s Note: Below is an edited version of a Q&A with ARPA-E Program Director Dr. Ping Liu, who focuses on advanced materials for energy efficiency and energy conversion and storage. For more on Dr. Liu’s thoughts on new ways to think about batteries in electric vehicles, check out the full transcript on ARPA-E’s site.

Question: Please tell us a little about your experience before coming to work for ARPA-E.

Dr. Ping Liu: I was trained as an electrochemist and have being doing battery research for many years. Before coming to ARPA-E last year, I worked at a California lab that was involved in energy storage research and development for electric vehicles and hybrids, as well as some space applications. Prior to that, I was a member of the technical staff at the Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Lab, working with microbatteries, electrochromics, hydrogen sensors and more.

Q: Can you describe your experience so far as a program director at ARPA-E?

PL: Serving at ARPA-E is an enriching “once in a lifetime opportunity” for leading scientists who want to make a big difference beyond their own research efforts. In this role, I have the opportunity to see the entire energy landscape within my technical area and beyond what I would normally be exposed to.

Q: RANGE stands for Robust, Affordable, Next Generation EV-Storage. As director of the RANGE program, what else can you tell us about its importance?

PL: Right now, the biggest challenge facing the electric vehicle (EV) industry is attaining the same performance standards as gasoline-powered vehicles at a comparable price point. The generally accepted approach to improve EV range has been to focus on the battery -- packing more energy into a smaller volume for greater energy density. The result is a vehicle configuration comparable to internal combustion engines even though batteries and other electrochemical storage systems are not physically equivalent to internal combustion engine systems. We are asking the community to think more broadly about the form and function of the batteries themselves. We can take an entirely new strategy, dividing batteries up and packing them into different form factors. Through this new approach, we hope to find new trade off spaces in terms of weight, volume and cost with the same ultimate goal of delivering more favorable cost and range.

Q: How is RANGE different from some of the earlier ARPA-E battery and EV-related programs?

PL: Whereas previous EV-related programs were focused strictly on battery chemistry or battery management systems, RANGE looks at EV design from a holistic system level. This novel philosophy allows us to consider certain chemistries, materials and form factors we would otherwise dismiss. In the most extreme cases, we think some parts of the vehicle can be replaced by the battery. That is, the battery may be multifunctional, serving as a structural component of the vehicle in addition to providing energy.

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