SRU researchers charged with study of battery performance


Student and professor in a lab

From left, Shah Limon, Slippery Rock University assistant professor of physics and engineering, and Chelsea DeSalve, a senior physics major, stand near two HeraTherm Incubators in SRU’s engineering laboratory that will be used for a study of battery degradation.

Feb. 2, 2022

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. — The use of consumer electronics continues to rise as people rely heavily on batteries instead of hardwired devices or equipment that burns fossil fuels. With advances in smartphones and the emergence of electric vehicles, it's easy to forget that batteries must also keep up with the technological demands. Researchers at Slippery Rock University haven't neglected this. A faculty-student research team has started to analyze the performance degradation of electric batteries.



"In the last few decades, the electrification of equipment has increased considerably, and we expect consumption to increase by 10% to 15% in the next few years," said Shah Limon, assistant professor of physics and engineering. "We need a robust design and better battery life, with safety and reliability in mind. Our research is about how we can better understand a battery life cycle, how we can predict when they need to be replaced or repaired, and how they can be designed with longer lifespans."

Although SRU has two HeraTherm Incubators in its engineering laboratory, which are essentially electric ovens to test the stability of lithium-ion batteries, the researchers won't actually test batteries in the lab until next year. This semester, they are developing physics-based failure mechanisms and mathematical models to predict how batteries will degrade and under which operating conditions.

To do so, Limon enlisted the help of Chelsea DeSalve, a senior dual physics and industrial engineering major from DuBois, who is being paid as a research assistant through SRU's Student Research, Scholarship and Creative Activities Grants Program. DeSalve admitted that she was at first overwhelmed by the number of articles and data needed to orient herself to the research, but her curiosity and desire for research experience has motivated her.

"This intrigued me because I know how important batteries are to our environment, with everything becoming more eco-friendly," DeSalve said. "I'm learning so much and I'm excited to see what we can do this semester."



The researchers are developing their own degradation models, which help predict how a battery will fail from a variety of reasons, including overcharging, prolonged discharges and extreme temperatures. Once they establish models, they will match them with open-access data available from national laboratories such as the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. After that, they will bring different lithium-ion batteries to SRU's engineering lab for testing.

"Our current focus is reliability and lifecycle modeling, but in the future, we could expand the research to include the maintenance strategies and the battery design optimization using machine learning techniques," Limon said. "I've been involved with many research collaborations with people at different universities, but what's great about this project is we are involving our students here at SRU. We're grateful to our administration, chair, dean and provost for supporting faculty-student research. This gives our students a way to relate to what they're learning in the class and how it can be applied in a real-world setting. Also, in engineering, having hands-on experience is really beneficial to our students and it gives them motivation.

More students will be joining DeSalve on the project, including Alejandro Fernandez, a junior industrial and systems engineering major from Alcalá de Henares, Spain.

DeSalve will also apply her research experience to what she's learned during internships. DeSalve interned last summer with Locomation, a Pittsburgh-based autonomous trucking, so she recognizes the importance of optimizing battery life, and next summer she'll be interning with industrial engineers at FedEx.

"It's great to work with Dr. Limon and learning from his knowledge and I'm also excited to be able to present this research at upcoming conferences," DeSalve said.

She plans to present at the Sigma Xi Regional Undergraduate Research and Creative Accomplishment Conference at Penn State Behrend later this spring, as well as SRU's own Symposium for Student Research, Scholarship, and Creative Activity.

More information about the physics and engineering programs at SRU is available on the department's webpage.

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