University of Rochester Member Spotlight

The University of Rochester is one of the leading research universities in the United States. The private university is a major center for diverse fields of research, offering over 200 majors.  Rochester’s Hajim School of Engineering and Applied Sciences is a nationally-ranked institution and the Chemical Engineering Department within that school specializes in applying material science to tackle grand challenges facing society in clean energy, biotechnology, and nanotechnology.

Faculty and students in the Chemical Engineering Department are conducting well-funded research in multiple areas related to energy storage.  Battery technology, fuel cells and smart grid technology are all areas with active ongoing programs at Rochester.

There are several efforts related to battery technology at UR.  Professor Wyatt Tenhaeff is investigating the implementation of solid-state electrolytes into advanced electrochemical energy storage cells. Such electrolytes can be used to improve the reversibility of Li metal cycling in batteries. Tenhaeff and colleagues from Oak Ridge National Laboratories are funded by ARPA-e to develop a safe, impact resistant electrolyte for electric vehicles that undergo an apparent phase change from a liquid to solid state upon a collision event, thus preventing the short-circuiting of the battery and potential thermal runaway. His group also studies the surface chemistry of high capacity anodes (e.g. Si) and high voltage cathodes.

Professor Mitchell Anthamatten’s group works on acid-base flow batteries and polymer electrolytes.  Acid-base flow batteries employ acid (e.g. H2SO4) and base (e.g. NaOH) solutions to store energy generated from a salt stream (Na2SO4) upon charging. Subsequent or delayed discharging of the acid/base streams can release the stored energy upon neutralization.  These flow batteries have the potential to be lower-cost than current vanadium-based flow batteries and to be safer than current bromine-based flow batteries.  The challenge in developing the acid-base batteries is in developing ion exchange membranes with appropriate chemical strength, conductivity and permselectivity.  The group hopes to apply its expertise in developing functional polymers in order to develop these membranes.

Professor Hitomi Mukaibo’s group focuses on the development of high energy-density metallic anodes, which can minimize the size and weight of current lithium ion batteries.  In particular, the group seeks to understand and learn to circumvent the anodes’ deterioration, which is caused by their large volumetric expansion during charge/discharge cycling.  The group uses electrochemical, crystallographic and morphological approaches to strategically design the compositions of these metal-based anodes, without sacrificing their high energy density.  The group is also developing a piezoelectric device that would enable in-situ measurements of the strain that develops within the anode during charge/discharge cycling.

Professor Jacob Jorne’s group works on electrochemical energy conversion and storage, hydrogen fuel cells, lithium-air batteries and flow batteries. Jorne’s PhD thesis work led to the development of lithium and lithium ion batteries.  He has collaborated with General Motors in the research and development of PEM fuel cells for transportation. A solid polymer membrane, typically Nafion, is used as the ionomer electrolyte in PEM cells and, in particular, the nano-distribution of the ionomer over the highly dispersed Pt catalyst has led to the ability to sustain high current densities unheard of only few years back.   Experimental research at GM’s fuel cell laboratories focuses on the fundamental understanding of processes within PEM fuel cells that determine their performance.  The study of practical considerations, such as the effects of external conditions including operation of the cells in cold climate, is also an important part of the Jorne group’s work.

The Jorne group also works on the research and development of zinc-redox flow battery for the storage of electrical energy and nano-charge transfer in the lithium-ion battery. Flow batteries are currently studied with the goal of eliminating the membrane between the two circulating electrolytes.

Professor Matthew Yates’ group studies proton conducting ceramic membranes for mid-temperature fuel cells.  These membranes operate at a reasonable temperature while eliminating the need for costly catalysts like platinum. The University of Rochester has applied for a patent on Yates’ novel ceramic proton conductors.

Professor Yates, who is Chair of the Department of Chemical Engineering, notes that "The University of Rochester has targeted a Center for Energy and the Environment as a key part of the strategic plan recently adopted by the Board of Trustees.  The mission of the center is to understand and identify environmental and health impacts of energy technology, and to develop new technologies that minimize negative impacts.  Battery and fuel cell research will play an important role in finding ways to increase energy efficiency, allow increased use of renewable sources of energy, and to enable a higher proportion of distributed renewable power production on the electrical grid."

Professor Eldred Chimowitz works on issues related to the smart grid.  The piecemeal fashion in which the present electricity grid was developed and its growing susceptibility to major failure provide strong incentives to reconfigure the grid and replace it with one that incorporates geographically distributed energy generation and storage capacity developed on a large scale.   The Chimowitz group is investigating energy flows throughout network (grid) structures by analyzing the behavior of noisy dynamical processes ‘resident’ on complex, interconnected structures.

UR’s more than 2,000 faculty and instructional staff provide a top-tier educational experience to some 10,500 students—including roughly 6,000 undergraduates. Rochester remains one of the smallest and most collegiate among top research universities, with smaller classes, a low 10:1 student to teacher ratio, and increased interactions with faculty.  With its wide range of advanced research programs, the University of Rochester is one of New York State’s most valuable intellectual resources.