Can you briefly tell us about your journey in the scientific world so far?
I was born in the US, just outside of Chicago. After graduating from high school, I started to study Physics Engineering at the University of Illinois, USA. Once I obtained my degree, I decided to do a PhD in physics from Lehigh University, USA. My PhD focused on soft condensed matter, a relatively new area at the time. After my PhD, I took a post-doc position at the University of Pennsylvania studying carbon nanotubes, and a couple years later, I joined Solvay as a Senior Scientist at the Complex Fluids Lab in Bristol.
You are working in the battery lab at the Research & Innovation Center in Seoul. Do you have any research projects going on?
The Research Center in Seoul has been the center of excellence for lithium ion batteries for some years now. Some of our current research projects include qualifying binders; the application, innovation and applicability for new fluoro-based solvents and additives; and the protection of lithium metal anodes for next generation batteries.
From your point of view, what does the battery of the future look like and what about solid-state batteries?
In my opinion, the future of the battery industry is clear: more power for less cost and weight. This will come in the form of higher voltage batteries, lithium metal and silicon anodes, as well as lower cobalt cathode materials. Currently Solvay has projects on all of these challenges.
One possible game changer - which is also an engineering challenge - is solid-state batteries. Although many companies have invested billions into the production of lithium ion batteries, the future solid-state batteries will require new production lines and investment. It will happen at some point, but I do not think it will be soon. The energy revolution is so tangible right now that there will be room for all types of batteries in the future.
What do you see as the major breakthrough in battery technology?
The major breakthrough has already happened with Tesla! They managed to change the mindset of the consumer: Tesla is not only a car company, it is also and more importantly a technology company. Many people in traditional sectors have taken notice and brought electrification past the tipping point.
What are the main challenges as far as battery technology is concerned?
Many materials used in current batteries have been the same for 10 -15 years. On the horizon there will be a problem with raw materials. Batteries use a lot of cobalt, which will be in short supply. In the future higher voltage with less cobalt will be the most likely path. Solvay is currently working along these lines, to do more with less with its new formulations of solvents, additives, surfactants and polymers. These will also respond to the capacity and cost issues. Furthermore, Solvay is well positioned to make a mark in this ever growing space.
Another important challenge we will have to face in the future is the recycling of the batteries. Cars have a long lifetime and the batteries are big! The volume of production and eventual recycling will be a huge undertaking!