The holy grail of energy storage—Solving the problems of lithium anodes

Samsung exploded phone
A damaged Samsung Galaxy Note 7 after its lithium battery caught fire. Photo Credit: Shawn L. Minter, Associated Press

State-of-the-art mechanical characterization of pure lithium metal, performed at submicron-length scales, provides signifcant physical insight into critical factors that limit the performance of next generation energy storage devices.

Erik Herbert, Michigan Tech
Erik Herbert, Materials Science & Engineering

Compared to competing technology platforms, a pure lithium anode potentially offers the highest possible level of volumetric and gravimetric energy density. Gradual loss of lithium over the cycle life of a battery prevents the full fruition of this energy technology.

Michigan Tech researchers Erik Herbert, Stephen Hackney, and their collaborators at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the University of Michigan are investigating the behavior of a lithium anode accessed through, and protected by, polycrystalline superionic solid electrolytes. Their goals: Mitigate the loss of lithium; prevent dangerous side reactions; and enable safe, long-term, and high-rate cycling performance.

“We want to maintain efficient cycling of lithium in a battery over many cycles, something that’s never been done before,” says Herbert. “The fundamental challenge is figuring out how to maintain a coherent interface between the lithium anode and the solid electrolyte. Defects formed in the lithium during cycling determine the stability and resistivity of the interface. Once we see how that happens, it will reveal design rules necessary to successfully fabricate the solid electrolyte, and the battery packaging.”

The team is launching parallel efforts to address these issues. Herbert, for his part, wants to learn exactly how lithium is consumed on a nanoscale level, in real time. “We want to know why the interface becomes increasingly resistive with cycling, how the electrolyte eventually fails, how defects in the lithium migrate, agglomerate, or anneal with further cycling or time, and whether softer electrolytes can be used without incursion of metallic lithium into the electrolyte,” he says. “We also want to learn how processing and fabrication affect interface performance.”

“We want to maintain efficient cycling of lithium in a battery over many cycles, something that’s never been done before.”

Erik Herbert

polycrystalline lithium film
Surface of the polycrystalline lithium film, with over 100 residual impressions from targeted test sites

To answer these questions, Herbert conducts nano-indentation studies on vapor-deposited lithium films, various sintered solid electrolytes, and lithium films in fully functional solid-state batteries.

“The data from these experiments directly enable exam-ination of the complex coupling between lithium’s micro-structure, its defects, and its mechanical behavior,” says Herbert. “So far we’ve gained a better understanding of the mechanisms lithium utilizes to manage pressure (stress) as a function of strain, strain rate, temperature, defect structure, microstructural length scale, and in-operando cycling of the battery.”


Prevascularization of Natural Nanofibrous Extracellular Matrix

Lijun Zhang (former research fellow), Zichen Qian, Shaohai Qi (collaborator), and Feng Zhao have an accepted manuscript “Prevascularization of Natural Nanofibrous Extracellular Matrix for Engineering Completely Biological 3D Prevascularized Tissues for Diverse Applications” in the Journal of Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine.

Feng Zhao is an associate professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering. Zhao specializes in stem cell and tissue engineering research.

doi: 10.1002/term.2512

The study indicated that a preformed functional vascular network provides an effective solution for solving the mass transportation problem in large engineered tissues after implantation. Microvessels were created on a stem cell sheet by controlling microenvironmental parameters including oxygen and nanostructure. The prevascularized stem cell sheet holds great promise for engineering 3D prevascularized tissues for diverse applications.

3D Prevascularized Tissue
3D Prevascularized Tissue

AV START Act May Boost Autonomous Vehicle Testing

Gary Peters and Jeff Naber
U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and Jeff Naber

HOUGHTON — Testing of autonomous vehicles, such as that being done at Michigan Technological University, could get a boost with legislation working its way through Congress.

The American Vision for Safer Transportation through Advancement of Revolutionary Technologies (AV START) Act was approved by the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee in October. U.S. Sen.

Gary Peters, D-Mich., sponsored the bill along with Sen. John Thune, R-S.D. U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., is a co-sponsor of the legislation.

In March, Peters visited Tech’s Advanced Power System Research Center to get informed of Tech’s research and development efforts into autonomous vehicles.

Jeff Naber, director of the center, said the bill will enable the advancement of autonomous vehicle functions.

Read more at the Mining Gazette, by Garrett Neese.


Three Student Teams Chosen for Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition

3D PrintingThree Michigan Tech student teams have been chosen to compete in the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition in Detroit on Nov. 16, 2017. The student teams will compete for a total of $21,000 in funding.

Statewide, 27 teams were selected through submission of a one-minute video and a brief write-up about the company product or service, revenue model and team capabilities.

The Tech student teams are Looma, Makerhub and FitStop. Looma is a food and nutrition app that helps users eat healthier by providing preference-based recipe suggestions with integrated calendaring for preparation time and grocery lists for shopping. Makerhub is a web application that connects individuals who own 3-D printers with others who need 3-D printed parts. FitStop is a web application that connects people who are traveling for business or leisure with gyms or fitness centers in the city they are traveling to.

Three Michigan Tech-affiliated start-ups will also participate in the competition. They are StabiLux Biosciences, Goldstrike Data and Orbion.

By Jenn Donovan.


Working Luncheon, MDOT Call For Research Ideas

MDOT PavementThe MDOT Office of Research is soliciting research priority ideas for their upcoming funding years FY19/20/21. This is a great opportunity for Michigan Tech researchers from various departments to expand their research portfolio into transportation topics.

The topics are very versatile, from hard core pavement engineering to water and environmental aspects, life cycle cost engineering, even workforce development. Details on MDOT research priorities can be found here.

In the past, Michigan Tech Transportation Institute (MTTI) has submitted Tech’s research ideas to MDOT as a combined package for a stronger, unified presence. Our plans are to do so again.

From noon to1 p.m. Thursday (Nov. 9, 2017), in Dillman 309A, MTTI will be hosting a lunch meeting for discussions, gathering of ideas and to provide a setting for collaboration on the research idea topics listed. We will also share a couple of past ideas that were later turned by MDOT to RFPs and we’ll provide some insight from discussions with MDOT.

We’ve created a spreadsheet to gather information on topic ideas you’re interested in providing to MDOT. Email Pam Hannon to get a link to the spreadsheet. Contact Pam also, if you’d like to join us in the meeting by Tuesday (Nov. 7).


Lake Superior Water Festival 2017

Lake Superior Water FestivalThe Water Festival provides an opportunity for students to learn about and celebrate our most precious natural resource – the Great Lakes! A wide variety of topics from science and engineering to creative writing will be presented. Students attend four 35-minute activities. Some of the topics to be presented include Remotely-Operated- Vehicles, Leave No Trace Outdoors, cleaning wastewater, U.S. Coast Guard careers, Lake Sturgeon ecology, atmospheric research in a cloud chamber, and more.

2017 Water Festival Presenters and Descriptions

Lake Superior Water Festival Haiku

Haiku: 5 syllables, 7 syllables, 5 syllables

The beautiful five Great Lakes
Sparkling below the sky.
Nothing else compares.
Lake Superior
A gentle breeze and waves
Brings back memories.
Over on the shore
I see the waves crashing in
I feel the cold breeze.
Lake Superior
Causing sailors to fall below
Greatest of all lakes.
Rushing and foaming
Dangerously storming now
Lake Superior
The cold moving water
Crashing on the rocky shore
Icy gray water.

Water study: Students spend day learning at Lake Superior Water Festival

HOUGHTON — High school students from five Upper Peninsula counties learned more about the Great Lakes and the research being done on them at the sixth annual Lake Superior Water Festival Wednesday.

The goal is to get students thinking about Lake Superior in an interdisciplinary way, said Joan Chadde, director of the Center for Science and Environmental Outreach at Michigan Technological University.

Held at Tech’s Great Lakes Research Center, the day included 15 sessions led by Tech researchers, students and staff as well as members of organizations such as the Keweenaw Land Trust and U.S. Coast Guard.

Read more at the Mining Gazette, by Garrett Neese.

Lake Superior Water Festival at Great Lakes Research Center

HOUGHTON, Mich. (WLUC) – High school students from across the Western UP got a new perspective on Lake Superior today.

The Great Lakes Research Center hosted their 6th annual Water Festival today. Nearly 500 high school students learned about a variety of challenges and careers surrounding Lake Superior.

“The goal is for the students to get exposure to science and engineering challenges here in Lake Superior and its watershed, as well as to gain some background in history, communication skills and management,” said Joan Chadde, director of the Center for Science and Environmental Outreach.

Read more and watch the video at TV6 FOX UP, by Mariah Powell.

Lake Superior Water Festival 2017


The Secrets of Talking Nerdy, Part 2

Libby Titus Presentation
Libby Titus Presents Her Communication Secrets

More than 1,200 first-year engineering and computer science students learned the “Secrets of Talking Nerdy” from Michigan Tech Alumna Elizabeth (Libby) Titus ’96 at Michigan Tech’s annual First-Year Engineering Lecture on September 6.

According to Titus, engineering and computer science are group activities: it won’t matter how smart you are if you can’t communicate your ideas. She offers these writing tips for engineers and scientists:

Be clear. “First thoroughly understand the subject yourself, then be a filter and interpreter for your audience. Strip away all complexity so others can understand with minimal effort.”

Make it attractive. “Organize your writing for the reader’s benefit. Use lots of white space. Make it easy to skim. Be consistent with your style choices for format and punctuation, and stick to one or two fonts at the most.”

Proofread. “Your boss or client should never have to correct your writing. Grammar police are everywhere, and we will scrutinize what you write! You will be earnestly judged. No matter how tight your deadline is, you have to proofread!”

Focus on your reader. “If your reader feels smart, you win. Use simple language, so your audience can understand the first time. Any reader might not read past the first two sentences.

Get to the point. Keep it brief. Words don’t bleed. Cut them!”

Don’t write the way you talk. “If you do that, you’ll add too many words. No one likes that. Ask yourself. How can I make it easier for my audience? The answer is simple: Get to the point.”

Creature comforts are crucially important. “To write well, you have to put yourself in a state of deep work. The cost of distraction is high, and it’s about the switch itself. For instance, switching from your project to check texts then back again, no matter how quickly, taxes your productivity much more than the duration of the time spent distracted. I used to think writing was persecution, then I realized I needed to have a grateful attitude. Make sure you have everything you need. Clear space. Natural light. Solitude, or with others working diligently. Ice water in a cup. Everyone’s different. Regular exercise helps me.”

Motivate yourself. “When I feel unmotivated, I remind myself why my work is important. I once had a job watching potatoes on a conveyor belt. All day long.”

Be grateful it’s not fiction! “As technical writers, we should all be grateful of the gift of content.”

Break up the writing into small chunks. Give yourself a deadline for each chunk. Just get started. After a break, it’s much easier to get back to something, rather than a blank page.

Remember, every first draft sucks. In your first draft, you’re just telling yourself the story.

Follow the Growth Mindset (Carol Dweck)
Embrace challenges.
Persist in the face of setbacks.
See effort as the path to mastery.
Learn from criticism.
Find lessons and inspiration in the success of others.

Keep yourself in the chair. You need willpower until the clock runs out, or your document is perfection! Staying in the game is a huge part of winning the game.

Get feedback. Tell lots of people. Crowdsource for ideas. See criticism as a gift. Try rejection therapy to desensitize. (She recommends googling “rejection therapy” to find a game invented by a Canadian Entrepreneur).

DO read user manuals! And more—read everything and skim everything you come across.

Tips for conciseness:
Try not to verbalize the scientific method.
Lead with the conclusion.
Keep sentences and paragraphs short.
Drop unnecessary words.
Write nothing longer than a page.
Read it one last time to slash as many words as possible.


Titus’s lecture was part of the Visiting Women and Minority Lecturer/Scholar Series (VWMLSS), funded by a grant to the Office of Institutional Equity from the State of Michigan’s King-Chavez-Parks Initiative. The event was sponsored by Novo Nordisk, and Michigan Tech’s College of Engineering, Department of Engineering Fundamentals, Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences, and Department of Computer Science.


The Secrets of Talking Nerdy, Part 1

Libby Titus Giving the First-Year Lecture
Libby Titus Giving the First-Year Lecture, Fall 2017

Are you an engineer or a scientist? Then you’re a writer and communicator, too. Libby Titus tells how to be an amazing geek who can also write.

More than 1,200 first-year engineering and computer science students learned the “Secrets of Talking Nerdy” from Michigan Tech Alumna Elizabeth (Libby) Titus ’96 at Michigan Tech’s annual First-Year Engineering Lecture on September 6. Here are some highlights from her talk.

It was 1990. Libby Titus was deciding where to go to college. She knew she wanted to get as far away from home as possible without incurring out-of–state tuition. That put Michigan Tech, a 12-hour drive, into the running. “Also, at the time, the only person in my family who had gone to college was my uncle Bob, and he had gone to Michigan Tech. After graduation, he was happily designing kegerators and brewing craft beer. I like beer, so I chose Michigan Tech,” Titus admits.

It turned out to be a much bigger decision than she realized. Titus met her former husband, the father of her two children, while walking across campus the very first day. She earned two bachelor’s degrees from Michigan Tech in 1996—one in environmental engineering and the other in scientific and technical communication.

After graduation, Titus packed up a U-Haul and headed West, taking a job in Salt Lake City for ASARCO, a mining company. “I was the first entry-level engineer and the only woman in the group. I quickly discovered that my ability to communicate equaled survival,” she recalls.

The job felt like torture. A friend, also an engineer, said to her, “Engineering is the easy part. Dealing with people is the hard part.”

She had read that for her resume to be taken seriously, she needed to stay in her first job for three years. “I made it three years and one day.” That’s when Titus moved to Seattle, where she lives now, to begin a new career as a consultant, helping clients with their environmental, health, and safety (EHS) obligations.

“I feel lucky,” she says. “My work is important, I feel appreciated, and I like my colleagues.” Titus currently manages EHS regulatory compliance for Novo Nordisk, a biopharmaceutical research center founded 9 years ago. Her job is to ensure her group of 120 Seattle researchers–Novo Nordisk has over 6,000 worldwide–meet all its compliance obligations for federal, state, and local EHS regulations and permits. She does a lot of training, and a lot of writing.

I decided to become a licensed professional engineer solely so I could command respect as a writer.”
Libby Titus

Professional engineers typically spend at least half of their day communicating, notes Titus. With 20 years of substantive experience now under her belt, she offers important advice for anyone entering the field.

“Engineering and science are group activities. It’s very rare for someone to be by themselves on a project,” she says. “No one wants to work with someone who can’t communicate.”

While at Michigan Tech, Titus took an improv class. “We all formed a circle and had to introduce ourselves and pass around some object made of air. It was pure hell, but it helped me. Take every chance you can get to engage with other people,” urges Titus. “Engineers are known for avoiding opportunities to connect with people. If you are not a confident writer or are afraid of public speaking, more writing and more speaking are the only solutions,” she says. “Confidence comes from practice!”

Adds Titus, “In business, written communication is often more important than what you say verbally. Writing is the greatest engineering challenge of all. It’s amazing how much business effort is wasted to fix poor writing. In one of my previous consulting jobs, we called our product ‘The BHB’, which stands for ‘Big Honking Binder’. The longer it takes to write, the more it costs the client.”

Clients are known to fire engineering consultants who cannot write well. “No matter how smart you are, your great ideas mean nothing until they can be effectively communicated. People will judge you by how well you speak and write.”


Michigan Tech Joins Academic Consortium at the American Society for Mobility

Semi-Autonomous VehicleDetroit News reported on the American Society for Mobility’s  self-driving research site in Ypsilanti, Michigan, and its new partnership with 15 Michigan universities, including Michigan Tech. The partnership will lead to training, courses, recruitment, internships, co-ops and work-study programs. The article was featured in First Bell, a daily science and engineering newsletter published by the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE).

In addition, Michigan Tech is one of three Michigan universities whose students have been invited to participate in a three-year autonomous vehicle competition sponsored by General Motors and SAE.

The topic of autonomous vehicles was addressed during the inaugural Mobility Summit at Michigan Tech in April 2017. The event brought together interdisciplinary teams and keynote speakers to discuss the whole vehicle system, the larger infrastructure, and the human systems in which it is embedded.

The summit was organized by Michigan Tech’s mobility-affiliated research centers and institutes, the Vice President for Research, and the College of Engineering.

Colleges partner with Willow Run mobility center

Ypsilanti — Leadership at the American Center for Mobility here plans to cultivate high-tech talent from 15 Michigan colleges and universities through a partnership aimed at preparing and retaining new engineers to work on the vehicles of the future.

The self-driving research site at Ypsilanti’s Willow Run will open in December, President and CEO of the center, John Maddox, said. Maddox and Gov. Rick Snyder want to make sure local students graduating from the state’s colleges and universities are ready to work on the high-tech, high-demand connected and automated technology that will be developed, prototyped and tested by automakers and suppliers on the 500-acre facility.

Maddox, Snyder and representatives from the University of Michigan, Michigan State University, Michigan Tech, University of Detroit Mercy, Grand Valley State University and Wayne State University, among others, signed a memorandum of understanding to form the academic consortium at the American Center for Mobility.

Read more at The Detroit News, by Ian Thibodeau.

Mich. universities push ahead on autonomous vehicles

Southfield — On the small campus of Lawrence Technological University, a few students are on the cusp of programming one of the nation’s first autonomous vehicles as a class project.

Many other colleges are involved in autonomous vehicle research, testing and training, including Michigan State University and Oakland University. Three Michigan colleges, Kettering University, Michigan Technological University and MSU, are part of a three-year North American autonomous vehicle competition.

Read more at The Detroit News, by Kim Kozlowski.


Geology Field Trip and Tours for Brimley Area Students

Copper HarborTed Bornhorst, executive director and professor, A. E. Seaman Mineral Museum and Joan Chadde, director of the Center for Science & Environmental Outreach, hosted a second group of students from Brimley Area Schools Sept. 20 to 22, 2017. Last year a similar special field trip organized by Bornhorst with Brimley teacher Mary-Beth Andrews was so successful that the Brimley school board funded a return visit. The student interest was twice as great this year with 45 eigth graders and 15 ninth and tenth graders participating, as compared to a total of 30 students last year.

The three-day field trip included an all-day geology field trip in the Copper Harbor/Eagle River area led by Bornhorst. In the evening, the group took a guided boat trip on the Isle Royal Queen, located in Copper Harbor, funded by the GM Ride the Waves program. Erika Vye, geoheritage specialist with the Center for Science & Environmental Outreach, was the tour guide on the boat. On campus, the group visited the mineral museum, did STEM tours/activities including presentations by Mark Rudnicki (SFRES) and Parisi Abadi (MEEM). The high school students did an exploration aboard the Agassiz led by environmental engineering students Aubrey Ficek and Marr Langlais. As part of their Keweenaw experience, the Brimley students did an underground tour of the Quincy Mine and took a visit to Keweenaw Gem and Gifts foundry.

By A. E. Seaman Mineral Museum.