Physics professor Mohammad Islam has received another grant from the Syracuse Center of Excellence (CoE) to improve the range of lithium-ion batteries, so electric cars can better compete with gas-powered vehicles. The Syracuse CoE – which specializes in research pertaining to water, environment and energy – provided $15,000 to support Islam’s work. 

Previously, Islam received a Syracuse CoE grant in 2020 to develop new batteries for electric vehicles that ran on sodium, or salt, which can be extracted from the ocean. This is because the material is more accessible than lithium in the United States. However, Islam has shifted his focus to improving the existing lithium-ion technology.

“The previous 2021-2022 research on sodium-ion batteries was a new technology, and hopefully that can develop further later on into a market technology, but this year’s 2023 Syracuse CoE grant that I received is basically falling back onto lithium-ion batteries because of the urgency,” Islam said. 

Lithium-ion batteries are found in many everyday products, such as electric cars, cell phones and laptops. However, their battery life makes long-term use, like on a road trip, for example, a bit challenging.

“If you’ve ever driven an electric car, they have a short range,” Islam explained. “Most electric cars are hybrid cars, so they run on gas and electric, and the car decides when to go from electric to gas. The ranges are somewhere between 200 to 250 miles with a fully charged battery. That’s less than from here (Oswego) to New York City.”

Islam will be working with one SUNY Oswego physics student, Joel Turallo, on this research project throughout the summer, as well as the upcoming fall and spring 2024 semesters.

“I do feel good about research, and research is something you do because you enjoy it, but at the same time I feel a responsibility to our students, especially physics students,” said Islam.

Major research developments

Since receiving his initial Syracuse CoE grant in 2020, Islam and his research team have had groundbreaking discoveries that could change the way the world gets its power.

One of the major developments in his latest research into lithium-ion batteries is replacing the positive terminal, or anode, of the battery with a more sustainable material. 

“We are replacing the graphite anode with silicon anode,” Islam explained. “Silicon is a material that is found everywhere. The sand in sea beaches is basically silicon that can be purified. It’s a material that has been used everywhere… We’ve known a lot about silicon for the past forty years because that’s how computer chips were developed.”

Not only is silicon a more readily available material, Islam believes it will significantly outperform traditional graphite anodes.

“The good thing about a silicon anode is that, theoretically, its capacity is ten times that of a graphite anode,” said Islam.

Vehicle-to-grid technology

Another major development in this research regarding sustainable energy practices is something called Vehicle-to-Grid technology, also known as V2G, which has the potential to change the power grid across the globe completely.

“If you have a good battery, a battery that I and my coworkers with Syracuse CoE are developing, we think that it is possible to charge a car battery in a short amount of time, and then use that car battery which is sitting in your driveway at night to run the fans and lights and AC in your house,” Islam explained.

“In addition, let’s say you drove your car and commuted from your house to work 40 miles and your car battery is down, and at the same time a house in Arizona is producing electricity to its solar panel and is producing redundant energy, or producing more energy than the house needs,” Islam said. “You could use that energy to charge your car battery here in New York.”

Islam and other researchers believe this could be achieved through a wireless power grid.

“If all the millions of houses and cars are connected through wireless technology and a system can be developed where no energy is wasted, then we have this dream America of V2G. Different cars are connected, you submit your house needs and car needs to a central database, and they transfer energy to and from each other.”

Although it may seem a bit futuristic, Islam says developments are already in the works in the United States.

“One of the research institutions I worked in from 2018 to 2021, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, Colorado… They have a research building dedicated to energy optimization… They have this replica of a house and a car, and they’re doing this research on how to do these interconnections,” explained Islam. 

“The idea is there. If I can connect my house and my car via an electrical device, why can’t I connect your house and my house, or your car and my car? Why can’t we go from three and three to six and six, to millions and millions? It is possible.”

Impacts of the research

When asked about why the public should care about his research, Islam says electric cars are here to stay, whether people want them or not. He says this new technology will not only help the environment but people’s bank accounts as well.

“Even if you don’t care about the environment, the amount of gas available under the earth is shrinking,” Islam said. “The less amount of gas available under the earth, the harder it gets to extract it, which means the price is going to be transferred onto you and me as consumers. The only way to mitigate this imminent threat to both our pocketbook and our environment is to move on to renewable energy technology.” 

Islam also encourages the public to care about the pollution their gas-powered vehicles are emitting.

“Weeks ago, we were in this dark smog coming from Canada because of the forest fire," said Islam. "That has to do with environmental pollution, that has to do with global warming."