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Hundreds of Companies, NSF Gather at SD Mines to Explore Investment in the Next Generation of Batteries

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RAPID CITY, SD (Sept. 11, 2019) - Research scientists at South Dakota School of Mines & Technology will host hundreds of industry representatives, the National Science Foundation (NSF) and fellow academics on Thursday and Friday, Sept. 12-13, in a bid to establish an international center to develop solid state batteries which will be safer, cheaper, smaller and more efficient than lithium ion batteries.

The center would be a huge economic boost to both SD Mines as well as the state of South Dakota, says Dr. Alevtina Smirnova, an associate professor of chemistry and applied biological sciences and electrical and computer engineering at Mines.

Smirnova and research scientist Dr. Abu Md "Numan" Numan-Al-Mobin are leading the grant proposal to NSF for the establishment of the Center for Green Solid-State Electric Power Generation and Storage (CEPS). Smirnova and Numan are responsible for the coordination of the Sept. 12-13 conference.

"We are excited about the possibility of Mines taking such a major role in new green technology that could really change the world," Smirnova says. "We hope CEPS will become the center for development of eco-friendly, safe and economically feasible all-solid state energy storage technology."

Smirnova says the solid batteries developed in CEPS would be ideal for portable and medical applications, the automotive industry, centralized and decentralized electric grids, military applications and energy security.

Some of the industry leaders attending the conference include Ford (attending remotely), Swiss company LafargeHolcim, Garmin International, Caterpillar Inc., Naval Air Systems Command, Solvay of Belgium, Collins Aerospace, L3Harris Technologies, 3M and Parker-Hannifin Corporation.

The push to find safer, more sustainable batteries is the "holy grail" right now, Smirnova says.

"The reality is, conventional lithium-ion batteries are not safe or reliable." Conventional batteries contain a liquid, that renders them flammable, dangerous and costly. In 2016, the lithium ion batteries in Samsung's Galaxy Note 7 computers cost the company $10 billion when many of the batteries exploded.

This week's conference is the second step in the process to bring CEPS to its fully-funded fruition. Smirnova was awarded a $60,000 NSF planning grant in January to create an Industry/University Cooperative Research Center (IUCRC) on campus. With SD Mines as the lead center, three other universities became "sites" to work on specific pieces of the research needed to make solid state batteries a reality. Those universities are South Dakota State University in Brookings, University of South Dakota in Vermillion and Northeastern University in Massachusetts. Each university received $15,000 of the planning grant.

Under the NSF grant process, Mines and the three sites must now secure three business partnerships with companies, with each company contributing $50,000. NSF will match the $50,000 for the first three partners up to $600,000 per year. NSF also requires Mines and each site to partner with national labs for research assistance.

The NSF program strives to create cooperative research centers that create long-term partnerships among industry, academia and government.

The $50,000 investment by industry will give them a seat at the CEPS Industry Advisory Board, a vote in the CEPS research and development portfolio, the ability to monitor progress in the development of the technology, involvement in the development and approval of CEPS' bylaws and the retainment of non-exclusive licenses to develop products. They will also be helping to train students for future employment, supporting the economic development of South Dakota and supporting sustainable electric power grids, Smirnova says.

NSF will evaluate CEPS' progress during the conference this week. If the requirements are in place and CEPS can show it can attract members from industry, Smirnova will be asked to submit a full grant in December, requesting $600,000 per year for 5 years in grant funding for the project. The funds must be matched 1:1 by industry.

If NSF approves CEPS for full funding, the center and its three sites will have 10 to 15 years to become self-sustaining.

"We welcome these companies to our campus and look forward to sharing this exciting research with them," Smirnova says. "Solid state is the future of energy storage."

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