Navajo-Hopi Nations,Flagstaff & Winslow News
Mon, June 14

NTU faculty and students research on energy storage systems published in Journal of Power Sources
Research focuses on energy storage system that could be worn by soldiers to assist with battlefield missions

Robinson Tom and Dr. Thiagarajan Soundappan continue their research on energy storage systems in NTU’s wet labs in Crownpoint, New Mexico. (Photo/Navajo Technical University)

Robinson Tom and Dr. Thiagarajan Soundappan continue their research on energy storage systems in NTU’s wet labs in Crownpoint, New Mexico. (Photo/Navajo Technical University)

CROWNPOINT, N.M. – The Journal of Power Sources has published Navajo Technical University (NTU) Associate Professor of Chemistry Dr. Thiagarajan Soundappan and recent biology graduate Robinson Tom for their research activities related to non-flammable, aqueous gel electrolytes used to produce flexible aqueous lithium-ion batteries.

Soundappan and Tom’s research was conducted over the course of two summers under a faculty and student fellowship with the Army Research Laboratory (ARL) in Adelphi, Maryland.

“I’m really happy because we learned the new technology for aqueous lithium-ion batteries and our research work is published in a well-recognized journal,” said Soundappan, who collaborated with the ARL and University of Maryland to conduct the research.

Soundappan and Tom’s research focused on ecofriendly, cost effective methods in making an energy storage system that could be low weight, non-flammable, and worn by soldiers to assist with missions in the battlefield.

The first year of research worked at understanding interfaces within a battery where an electrolyte and electrode comes in contact, while year two took the knowledge gained from year one to test related monomers and crosslinks and their reaction with an aqueous polymer gel electrolyte.

Results from the research showed that the choice of monomers and crosslinks affects the ability of the solution to form a solid gel. Increasing crosslinks allowed for more charge-discharge cycles, which translated to a higher capacity of the battery. It also allowed the battery to perform better at various temperatures, something useful in everyday application.

“It makes me feel proud, especially being a veteran myself,” said Tom, who is a resident of Little Water, NM and served in the U.S. Army. “Now I know there are some energy sources that soldiers can use in the battlefield that won’t weigh them down and are less volatile. I feel happy about that, about providing some type of service.”

ARL has a patent on the lithium-ion batteries, including the publication, and NTU is working at transferring the technology to Crownpoint to continue the research and develop a startup company in battery manufacturing on the Navajo Nation. The venture project would require collaboration with NTU’s Innovation Center and other entities, but once in motion, it could serve as a means of economic development much needed in the region.

One student that would benefit from such a venture would be Tom, who has a long-term goal of creating a national laboratory on the Navajo Nation where research could be conducted internally rather than outsourced. He also has aspirations of becoming a faculty member, which he’s on track to do under the American Indian Science and Engineering Society’s Lighting the Pathway fellowship.

The fellowship’s aim is to increase the representation of American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiians in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics faculty positions at universities across the country.

Tom works part-time for NTU’s Biology program as a laboratory technician while he explores graduate school opportunities.

“It’s not something you have to do elsewhere, it’s something you can do here. When you do research, you contribute to knowledge.”

As a result of tech transfer efforts with ARL, NTU’s wet laboratories have obtained a brand-new, sophisticated battery cycler, which is a vital research and testing instrument of rechargeable batteries. Students have also begun research on battery electrochemistry.

“I’d like to thank NTU administration and Army Research Laboratory colleagues Dr. Arthur Cresce, Dr. Kang Xu, and Dr. Patrice Collins for the great opportunity. Without their help, it’s not possible for us to learn this technology and transfer it to NTU,” Soundappan said.

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