Oswego State professor gets grant for battery research

Mohammed Islam, a faculty member in the physics department at Oswego State, recently received a grant that will further his research into sodium-ion batteries, which he said he believes will have a beneficial environmental impact.

Sodium-ion batteries, meant to be used in place of lithium-ion or other rechargeable batteries, are made with sodium, an element that is about 3.5 percent of the world’s ocean, according to the National Ocean Service. Islam said this makes his goal a better prospect than the current lithium-ion batteries, which require the use of a comparably rare ore.

“That’s where the idea comes from for sodium [ion batteries],” Islam said. “Sodium is much more readily available. If you can somehow build a sodium-ion rechargeable battery, that will solve source issues.”

The $3,000 grant was awarded by the Scholarly and Creative Activity Committee. William Bowers, associate provost for the committee, said Islam’s written grant was well deserving of the fund. 

“[Committee members] saw the benefit of creating or researching new ways of improving battery technology, just based upon kind of where the field was and where it’s going,” Bowers said. “It was seen as cutting-edge technology and research the students could participate in.”

Though the batteries are only about the size of a quarter, Islam said he predicts the technology’s impact will stretch the length of the globe.

“Mass production of alternative energy technology is possible only when we can bring down the cost of the material,” Islam said. “That’s where the trade-off from lithium to sodium will take place.”

Four student research assistants work with Islam in his Shineman lab as part of their physics capstone class. Joshua Willson junior electrical and computer engineering major, is one of Islam’s assistants. He said Islam lets the students conduct their own research, which is something Willson found rewarding.

“The research is all about the work that you do,” Willson said. “All the work is all the student. [The] biggest prospect I get out of it is more time in the lab, better suited for application.”

Islam said the reason sodium-ion battery research has not received as much attention until now is because though sodium and lithium are on the same row on the periodic table. Sodium is about 30 percent larger, making it far more reactant with oxygen.

“The size of the sodium ion and the reactivity of the ion is where we have to do most work to eventually get to the rechargeable sodium-ion battery solution,” Islam said.

Every battery Islam and his students build has to be constructed in a pressurized, argon-filled glovebox to prevent the sodium from coming in contact with any oxygen.

Islam has a learning contract with Paradim Research at Cornell University, allowing him to use their transmission electron microscope, a crucial tool in the manufacturing of the batteries. The grant helps to pay for Islam’s travel expenses, as well as the materials and chemicals involved.

Bowers said he hopes the grant helps the research to be a success so it can reach beyond the walls of Islam’s lab.

“The committee really wants the results that derive from these projects to be promoted,” Bowers said. “We want it to be out there so people understand what was done with it and how it impacts the field so it helps the students or the faculty member move and grow.”

Willson sees a future where research like Islam’s will continue to receive funding because of its possibilities in the realm of renewable energy.

“When the world is pushing battery-operated systems, people are going to put more money into making better batteries,” Willson said. “I see a huge push for it.”

The path to the substantial result is long, so Islam made a smaller goal that he will consider a success.

“I would consider a good milestone for me to be able to make a sodium-ion battery I can charge and recharge 200 times before it starts to fail,” Islam said.

Bowers said the grant Islam received is ultimately just a stepping stone and the committee wants to help those that receive their grants to receive more from off-campus sources.

“We’re using this internal grant funding to promote [and] kick-start people’s ideas to give them some momentum,” Bowers said. “Then we can work with them to then go to higher-impact sort of funds.”


Taylor Woods | The Oswegonian

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