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To the Rescue of the EV Comes RPI, NSF and NYSERDA!

February 19, 2011

(Image courtesy of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute)

Anyone following advances in high-capacity high-power batteries knows well that the depth and breadth of claims, research, institutions, developments, papers, and patents devoted to the technology is so overwhelming that no one person is capable of digesting all that goes on daily. To further exasperate the issue, battery R&D is no longer, even if it ever was, a domestic program of intense effort.

It’s refreshing and encouraging to see a potentially game changing technology come from the U.S. While I have been critical of the U.S. in terms of our lack of a comprehensive Energy Policy that stays the course, the export of key industries overseas, the loss of academic excellence in our secondary schools, our skyrocketing trade imbalance and our continued influx of foreign oil, I have always been a firm believer that America is the greatest place to be on our planet and the most innovative place in the world. Just concerned it will remain so.

Now a report in the news, coming from research conducted at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (“RIP”), Troy, New York, which was sponsored by the National Science Foundation (“NSF”) and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (“NYSERDA”), allows us to stand up and cheer once again.

Before delving into the discovery, it may be helpful to understand who are the NSF and NYSERDA. According to NSF’s website, the NSF is an independent federal agency created by Congress in 1950 “to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; to secure the national defense…” With an annual budget of about $6.9 billion (FY 2010), they fund source for approximately 20 percent of all federally supported basic research conducted by America’s colleges and universities. In many fields such as mathematics, computer science and the social sciences, NSF is the major source of federal backing. NSF is the only federal agency whose mission includes support for all fields of fundamental science and engineering, except for medical sciences, (Source:

At present, NSF has a total workforce of about 2,100 at its Arlington, Va., headquarters, including approximately 1,400 career employees, 200 scientists from research institutions on temporary duty, 450 contract workers and the staff of the NSB office and the Office of the Inspector General. While in some respects the NSF maybe smaller in scope in terms of Energy than the DoE, NSF’s total work force of 4,150 is only 3.6% of  DoE’s total work force of 115,000 (direct and contractors).  On the other hand, the NSF fund approximately 20 percent of all federally supported basic research conducted by America’s colleges and universities. In many fields such as mathematics, computer science and the social sciences, NSF is the major source of federal backing. Interesting, NSF’s FY 2010 budget was about $6.9 billion

Not to get off the track, but comparing DoE’s FY 2010 budget of $26.6 billion to NSF in terms of dollar per person, it is found that:
• NSF appropriates (handles) about $1.66 million per worker (direct and contract),
• DoE appropriates about $231,000 per worker (direct and contract).
This suggests that each worker in the DoE is only about 14% as productive as a NSF Worker

The NYSERDA is a public benefit corporation created in 1975 to reconstitute the New York State Atomic and Space Development Authority. NYSERDA aims to help New York meet its energy goals:  reducing energy consumption, promoting the use of renewable energy sources, and protecting the environment. NYSERDA strives to facilitate change through the widespread development and use of innovative technologies to improve the State’s energy, economic, and environmental wellbeing. NYSERDA’s programs and services provide a vehicle for the State of New York to work collaboratively with businesses, academia, industry, the federal government, environmental community, public interest groups, and energy market participants, (Source:

Now back to the the substance of this discussion. A January 5, 2011 article in ScienceDaily titled “’Nanoscoops’ Could Spark New Generation of Electric Automobile Batteries,” reported that “Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic (“RPI”)Institute developed an entirely new type of nanomaterial that could enable the next generation of high-power rechargeable lithium (Li)-ion batteries for electric automobiles, laptop computers, mobile phones, and other devices. The material, called a “nanoscoop” because it resembles a cone with a scoop of ice cream on top.  Nanoscoops can withstand extremely high rates of charge and discharge that would cause today’s Li-ion batteries to rapidly deteriorate and fail. (Source: RPI’s paper “Functionally Strain-Graded Nanoscoops for High Power Li-Ion Battery Anodes,” was published Thursday, February 17, 2011 by the Journal Nano Letters.

The report goes on and states:
“….. (the material) can withstand extremely high rates of charge and discharge that would cause conventional electrodes used in today’s Li-ion batteries to rapidly deteriorate and fail.”

“….. nanoscoop electrode could be charged and discharged at a rate 40 to 60 times faster than conventional battery anodes, while maintaining a comparable energy density.”

“….. this technology could potentially be ramped up to suit the demanding needs of batteries for electric automobiles.”

“….. invention of nanoscoops may enable these two separate systems (supercapacitors to perform power-intensive functions in conjunction with conventional batteries that deliver high energy density) to be combined into a single, more efficient battery unit.”

“….. nanoscoop was engineered to withstand buildup of stress.”

Note, the anode structure of a Li-ion battery physically grows and shrinks as the battery charges or discharges. When charging, the addition of Li ions increases the volume of the anode, while discharging has the opposite effect. These volume changes result in a buildup of stress in the anode. Too great a stress that builds up too quickly, as in the case of a battery charging or discharging at high speeds, can cause the battery to fail prematurely. This is why most batteries in today’s portable electronic devices like cell phones and laptops charge very slowly — the slow charge rate is intentional and designed to protect the battery from stress-induced damage.”

There remain significant challenges ahead to make this technology commercially viable. If anyone can do it, it’s the U.S.A. If successfully, the long-term challenge to the U.S. will be to keep the technology here, manufacture it here, and realize the gains here.

Many thanks to both the NSF and NYSERDA for their insight and proving the necessary funds that allowed RPI to make this nascent breakthrough a potentially significant discovery. Here’s to you America!

3 Comments leave one →
  1. February 20, 2011 10:05 AM

    Barry, thanks for the insightful posts. I thought you might enjoy our research project at We’re looking to secure some of that NSF capitol too.

  2. February 21, 2011 6:54 AM

    Many thanks for the kind words. I will take a look at your project.
    Good luck,

  3. February 22, 2011 6:03 PM

    I absolutely adore reading your blog posts, the variety of writing is smashing.This blog as usual was educational, I have had to bookmark your site and subscribe to your feed in ifeed. Your theme looks lovely.

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