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Helping Develop Long-lasting Lithium-ion Batteries

By Stefan Yablonski

A SUNY Oswego associate professor of physics and a specialist in nanotechnology, Mohammad Islam holds a patent related to his research on rechargeable batteries. He is interested in sustainable energy technologies. He has received another grant (of $15,000) from the Syracuse Center of Excellence to improve the range of lithium-ion batteries, so electric cars can better compete with gas-powered vehicles.

Q: What is your background? I was born in Bangladesh and came to the United States in 1991 — right after high school graduation. I always loved physics; it came easy to me.

Q: And so you wound up at SUNY Oswego. I wanted to teach and I wanted to do research in physics and I wanted to stay in New York. To me, SUNY Oswego was an easy choice to teach and do the kind of research I’m interested in doing.

Q: Why this type of research? I am a firm believer of environmental stewardship. It’s up to us that our climate and our environment remain good for our future generations.

Q: So that is why your focus is on sustainable energy? I have always been interested in sustainable energy technology. Sustainable energy devices — using solar, wind — depend on nature, but nature is intermittent. What we need is a way of harnessing the energy at the peak activity. That’s done through batteries. My research is on rechargeable batteries. I’ve worked with lithium ion batteries previously; published papers on that work in journals and gotten good reviews. Lithium is, however, one of the rare earth materials. Sodium, on the other hand, is in virtually unlimited supply in the earth and the oceans. Sodium is much more available and cheap compared to lithium. And sodium is an element that’s very close to lithium in the periodic table.

Q: Tell us about your research. My current research is improving the properties of sodium ion batteries. It is geared towards disrupting the current trajectory of rechargeable battery technology through the development of high-performance anode for advanced lithium ion batteries based on silicon nanoparticle — recycled activated carbon composite.

Q: You recently received another grant for lithium-ion battery research. Yes, we will investigate the synergy of silicon’s high capacity alloying reaction with lithium and activated carbon’s reversible lithiation vis-à-vis high performance lithium ion battery anode with long cycle and calendar lives. The ultimate goal of the proposed effort is to develop high performance silicon nanoparticle (Si NPs) — recycled activated carbon (AC) composite as an anode material for advanced LIBs. Rechargeable LIBs based on nanostructured electrodes have progressed tremendously over the last few years by leveraging on short diffusion times, high surface to volume ratio and the intrinsic expandability of nanosystems.

Q: Is there a downside? In spite of the obvious advantages, however, the application of LIBs to large-scale energy systems are hampered by several factors including the high cost related to the need for carefully purified materials, electrode degradation, relatively slow charging rates and safety issues. This project seeks a shift of paradigm in rechargeable batteries through the development of the technology for cost effective and high performance LIBs based on Si nanomaterial anodes. Leveraging on the facts that Si is earth abundant, environmentally benign and Si NPs can be fabricated at low cost, this project will contribute to address the need for low-cost and sustainable energy for virtually all energy sectors. In addition, this project will make proactive contributions to the workforce development in rechargeable battery technology in the US by ushering in electrochemical energy storage research in the State University of New York at Oswego’s STEM curriculum.

Q: Do you think electric vehicles will be reliable in Oswego’s bad weather? Research on lithium ion battery performance is an ongoing process. The performance, safety and environmental compatibility of lithium ion batteries are improving constantly. Few tens of degrees or temperature fluctuations should not lower electric vehicles performance. Besides, controlling battery temperature in an electric car should be an easy engineering issue. So, yes electric vehicles will be reliable in Oswego’s bad weather.