10 lithium-ion battery researchers to watch

If we celebrate electric sports cars and grid-scale mega batteries, we should also celebrate scientists and engineers – those at the grassroots, who work long hours yet get only a fraction of the credit. This is the time to roll out the red carpet and present you some of the celebrities in battery research.

Who are we? For over 2 years we’ve been curating Keeping Up with Batteries, a monthly review of the latest battery science and engineering. Each month, we examine over 100 journals and evaluate over 1000 articles so we can disseminate good research. Because good research needs to be read and good researchers need to be known.

Gerbrand Ceder

University of California, Berkeley, USA
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, USA

We’re going alphabetically – and C, in this case, stands for California, Computation, and Ceder. As is common in physical sciences, many discoveries start with fundamental concepts, theory, modeling, and simulations. And there is probably no one who represents this approach better than Gerbrand Ceder. His group brings computational materials science to the forefront, whether it’s for understanding the structure-property relationships in solid-state electrolytes or designing novel cathode materials.

Recent sample papers: Cation-disordered rocksalt transition metal oxides and oxyfluorides for high energy lithium-ion cathodes / Energy & Environmental Science /// Understanding interface stability in solid-state batteries / Nature Reviews Materials

Jeff Dahn

Dalhousie University, Canada

There are probably as many researchers admiring Jeff Dahn as there are car enthusiasts admiring Elon Musk. And as you might know, these two men have something important in common – Tesla batteries. But it’s what they don’t have in common that we like. This Dalhousie lab doesn’t chase publicity; instead, they produce down-to-earth practical research that is extremely valuable to both academia and industry. They tackle difficult questions, they educate and share tools, and as a bonus, they often publish open-access.

Recent sample papers: A wide range of testing results on an excellent lithium-ion cell chemistry to be used as benchmarks for new battery technologies / Journal of The Electrochemical Society /// Is cobalt needed in Ni-rich positive electrode materials for lithium ion batteries? / Journal of The Electrochemical Society

Jürgen Janek

University of Giessen, Germany
Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Germany

Most believe the future of batteries is solid. However, such a paradigm shift might feel like going back to square one. Fortunately, there are labs that have already racked up more than a decade of intense research in solid-state ionics, so the scientific community now has much to build on. Jürgen Janek was one of those ahead of the curve. He is the authority in solid-state batteries, and his team’s work is deservedly gaining solid traction.

Recent sample papers: Benchmarking the performance of all-solid-state lithium batteries / Nature Energy /// Toward a fundamental understanding of the lithium metal anode in solid-state batteries – an electrochemo-mechanical study on the garnet-type solid electrolyte Li6.25Al0.25La3Zr2O12 / ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces

Jun Liu

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, USA
University of Washington, USA

PNNL is a hub of amazing battery research, connected in every direction with distinguished laboratories in the US and around the world. Its $50 million Battery500 consortium aims to develop batteries that are better, cheaper, and safer – and lithium-metal anode and Jun Liu are at the center of it all. But this is no esoteric science. It is a combination of fundamental and practical thinking that has led to engineered cells with record-breaking performance (specific energy >300 Wh/kg for pouch cell format). The next-generation battery technology is arriving!

Recent sample papers: Pathways for practical high-energy long-cycling lithium metal batteries / Nature Energy /// Self-smoothing anode for achieving high-energy lithium metal batteries under realistic conditions / Nature Nanotechnology

Ying Shirley Meng

University of California, San Diego, USA

To understand complex phenomena inside electrochemical cells, one must often merge theory with experimental characterization – that’s where Ying Shirley Meng dedicates much of her efforts. Her team at UCSD takes advanced techniques to many front lines, including lithium-metal anodes, solid-state electrolytes, and lithium-rich cathodes. Through diverse collaborations, they bridge fundamental science with device development. Here is how basic research should interact with the rest of the value chain.

Recent sample papers: Quantifying inactive lithium in lithium metal batteries / Nature /// From nanoscale interface characterization to sustainable energy storage using all-solid-state batteries / Nature Nanotechnology

What’s our methodology? We use a number of different parameters to make our selection. Without going into details, we assess individuals based on their research focus, leadership, academic and industrial impact, collaborations, recent publications, legacy as well as near-term potential, and so on. Our goal is to provide a balanced showcase of battery science and engineering. Choosing only 10 names is difficult, and unfortunately, one can never be comprehensive.

Minggao Ouyang

Tsinghua University, China
Chinese Academy of Sciences, China

Modern batteries pack a lot of energy that, if things go wrong, can be released very quickly. Stack thousands of them under the hood of an EV, start heating them up, and it’s time to be concerned about their safety. Minggao Ouyang is the foremost expert on battery degradation and failure. His research covers everything from battery management and fault diagnosis to thermal runaways and their propagation. If you care about battery safety (and you should!), he is the one to watch.

Recent sample papers: A review on the key issues of the lithium ion battery degradation along the whole life cycle / eTransportation /// Thermal runaway mechanism of lithium ion battery for electric vehicles: A review / Energy Storage Materials

Dirk Uwe Sauer

RWTH Aachen University, Germany
Forschungszentrum Jülich, Germany

There is a whole cohort of prominent German academics who link battery chemistry with device physics; work with large cell formats and test them under realistic conditions; and get into serious engineering to develop concrete technologies for electric vehicles or energy storage systems. Their labs are nested in an effective network of world-class universities, national research centers, and the automotive and electronics industries. One example is Dirk Uwe Sauer and his team. The work you’ll find in their portfolio is as multifaceted as a journey from lab to market.

Recent sample papers: Fast charging of an electric vehicle lithium-ion battery at the limit of the lithium deposition process / Journal of Power Sources /// The development of stationary battery storage systems in Germany – A market review / Journal of Energy Storage

Yang-Kook Sun

Hanyang University, South Korea

Cathode research has always enjoyed a lot of attention, so it’s a difficult place to stand out. But in the design and synthesis of advanced cathode materials, Yang-Kook Sun is in a league of his own. Even after years in the spotlight, his nickel-rich NMC and NCA chemistries are pushing today what seemed like a limit only yesterday. His lab has managed walking a fine line between academic curiosity and industrial applicability.

Recent sample papers: Degradation mechanism of Ni-enriched NCA cathode for lithium batteries: Are microcracks really critical? / ACS Energy Letters /// Customizing a Li-metal battery that survives practical operating conditions for electric vehicle applications / Energy & Environmental Science

Chunsheng Wang

University of Maryland, USA

May we present you one of the most creative scientists out there – Chunsheng Wang. Pick any important area of battery research and his team will have contributed to it. For instance, we like their work on high-voltage electrolytes and electrode/electrolyte interfaces. We also like them challenging the limits of battery operation via, for example, extreme temperatures or mechanical deformation. Whatever the topic, whatever the collaboration, they get interesting results.

Recent sample papers: All-temperature batteries enabled by fluorinated electrolytes with non-polar solvents / Nature Energy /// Aqueous Li-ion battery enabled by halogen conversion–intercalation chemistry in graphite / Nature

Rui Xiong

Beijing Institute of Technology, China

A battery management system is the electronic brain that operates each cell and battery pack. It balances performance, reliability, and safety. And as battery applications grow in number, so does the research into battery models and state estimation. Rui Xiong comes from the younger generation of BMS researchers, but having learned from the best, he is already establishing a stellar reputation in the field. Every battery engineer and developer should have him bookmarked.

Recent sample papers: Battery management algorithm for electric vehicles (book) / Springer /// Towards a smarter battery management system: A critical review on battery state of health monitoring methods / Journal of Power Sources

(*Image credit to UC Berkeley, Dalhousie, KIT, PNNL, UCSD, Tsinghua, RWTH Aachen, Hanyang, UMD, BIT, respectively. Images were modified using BeFunky.com)

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