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ORNL to lead new center on polymer electrolytes for energy storage

The Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory has been selected to lead an Energy Frontier Research Center, or EFRC, focused on polymer electrolytes for next-generation energy storage devices such as fuel cells and solid-state electric vehicle batteries.

Announced recently by U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, the award will provide $11.5 million over four years to the new ORNL-led EFRC for Fast and Cooperative Ion Transport in Polymer-Based Electrolytes, or FaCT.

DOE awarded more than $400 million toward establishing and continuing 43 EFRCs across the nation.

“Meeting the Biden-Harris Administration’s ambitious climate and clean energy goals will require a game-changing commitment to clean energy — and that begins with researchers across the country,” said Granholm. “The research projects announced today will strengthen the scientific foundations needed for the United States to maintain world leadership in clean energy innovation, from renewable power to carbon management.”

The EFRC program was established in 2009 by the Office of Basic Energy Sciences within DOE’s Office of Science. The funding opportunity sponsors fundamental research to accelerate scientific breakthroughs needed to strengthen the U.S. energy economy. Centers bring together multidisciplinary teams from universities, nonprofits, industry and national laboratories to tackle challenges across promising areas for future energy technologies.

ORNL has partnered with six universities on FaCT including The Pennsylvania State University; the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign; Texas A&M University; the University of California, Santa Barbara; the University of Tennessee, Knoxville; and Georgia State University.

“Our overall goal is to promote the design of novel polymers that enable ions, such as lithium or hydrogen, to move extremely fast,” said FaCT Director Valentino Cooper, an ORNL distinguished staff member and section head in the Materials Science and Technology Division. “Polymers have the potential to serve as electrolytes in batteries and overcome some of the challenges in safety and efficiency that hinder progress in electric vehicles and other clean energy technologies.”

State-of-the-art lithium-ion batteries work by passing electrically charged particles, or ions, between two solid electrodes separated by a liquid electrolyte. The electrolyte is key to converting chemical energy into electrical energy that can power devices, but it is also a major bottleneck in advancing battery technology. Liquid electrolytes pose safety hazards because they are flammable materials and can degrade over time, limiting battery performance. While current lithium-ion batteries offer exceptional energy densities in a lighter package than traditional batteries, they have not been able to achieve DOE priorities for fast charging and extended range to support wider adoption of electric vehicles.

Replacing liquid electrolytes with polymer materials offers superior safety advantages, but lithium tends to move slowly through these materials. For polymer electrolytes to become a viable option, they need faster ion transport properties. FaCT takes a bottom-up approach, combining polymer synthesis, materials characterization, and computational modeling and simulation, to gain insights in enhancing polymers for battery and fuel cell applications.

FaCT collaborators include ORNL scientists Valentino Cooper, Chelsea (Xi) Chen, Miaofang Chi, Sheng Dai, Rajeev Kumar, Tomonori Saito, Yuya Shinohara, Alexei Sokolov and Zac Ward; Penn State’s Susan Sinnott, who will serve as the center’s deputy director, Mike Hickner, Ralph Colby and Wesley Reinhart; UIUC’s Kenneth Schweizer; Texas A&M’s Jodie Lutkenhaus; UCSB’s Raphaële Clément; UT’s Takeshi Egami and GSU’s Gangli Wang.

UT-Battelle manages ORNL for the DOE’s Office of Science, the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States. The Office of Science is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit