Maintaining the Momentum in Electrochemical Energy and Power Conversion

Tuesday, 7 October 2014: 17:10
Expo Center, 1st Floor, Universal 1 (Moon Palace Resort)
R. Brodd (Broddarp of Nevada, Inc.)
Battery technology has reached goals that were considered by many as impossible only 15 years ago.  The pace of new developments has accelerated along with the entrance of people with exceptional skills who have been drawn into the technology.  I would like to take you back in time to when I entered the arena and relate some of my observations as a means to encourage you to keep up the momentum and remarkable growth that has lead to the use of electrochemical energy and power conversion in our every day personal life.  We’ve seen the promise of electric cars fulfilled, solar, and wind power to replace coal fired power plants in order to control global warming.  In many respects electrochemical energy conversion (batteries, fuel cells, flow batteries, capacitors, etc.) has become the hope of the future in maintaining our world as we know it.

My journey started at the University of Texas with, Professor, Dr. Norman Hackerman, in 1950.  While at the university, The Corrosion Division of the ECS sponsored an essay contest. I entered, and won first place and membership in the ECS in 1952.  (the rest is history, so to speak)

My PhD thesis was on the relationship of capacitance and surface area of electrodes.  This work continued at the National Bureau of Standards (now NIST) using impedance as a function of frequency to determine the characteristics (rate constants, exchange current, activation energy, etc.) of battery electrode reactions.  Today, impedance is being used to sort cells in a production environment and to identify and remove individual problem cells in large array Li-Ion cell systems to prevent an “incident”.  Lithium ion batteries are an essential part of our lives and also offer the promise of lowering greenhouse emissions in transportation and utility applications.

A word about lessons learned in my career during the development of the alkaline Zn-MnO2 cell and the birth of lithium technology.  I pushed very hard to increase funding for lithium exploration over that for alkaline as a key for the future.  We re-engineered the alkaline technology with new MnO2 materials, a new separator, a new anode current collector, and a new seal to prevent leakage.  These were all ready for implementation.  Finally, the company President said, “Ralph I understand your enthusiasm and outlook, but we need to have a viable and continuing income from alkaline cells to ensure our future.” The new current collector was adopted because it would instantly because it lowered cost and instantly saved over a million dollars annually.  The MnO2 research work continued and eventually resulted in new cathode materials for Li-Ion cells.