Safe affordable batteries for a clean energy future

With his primary focus being furthering lab-scale demonstrations towards practical implementation, Dr Dipan Kundu says Australia, with its abundant renewable energy and natural resources, has unlimited potential to steward the development of next generation energy storage devices.

According to Dr Dipan Kundu, the development of large-scale energy storage devices is critical to the ambition of building an energy future forged from renewable energy sources. This is one of the key reasons he decided to focus his research efforts on this complex, but potentially hugely rewarding, clean energy solution.

A transparent lab-scale solid-state battery. The graphs show the voltage profile of a solid-state Li-symmetric cell and the corresponding evolution of the cell impedance.
Originally from India, Dipan completed his M.S. studies from the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore before landing a prestigious PhD candidacy at the world-renowned Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. His PhD focused on electroactive materials development and understanding their structure-performance relationships for lithium-ion batteries.

“While lithium-ion has been the stand-out battery champion so far due to their high specific energy (energy per unit mass), dominating applications ranging from electronics to electric cars; for large-scale or stationary storage devices other qualities, namely safety, durability and cost, are more important,” explains Dipan.

“There are several alternative (electro)chemistries that are being explored. One of the most promising is aqueous zinc batteries or AZBs. AZBs comprise inexpensive and safe aqueous electrolytes and abundant and energy-dense zinc metal anodes. The prospect of easy assembly and low manufacturing costs add to their attraction for grid-scale, renewable and home storage implementations,” he continues.

Dipan joined UNSW Chemical Engineering in September 2019 following what can only be described as a stratospheric career. After his PhD, he investigated diverse energy storage systems during his postdoctoral tenure with Prof. Linda F. Nazar at the University of Waterloo in Canada.It was here that he worked on more fundamental aspects of energy storage and where he first started to explore the potential of AZBs. In fact, on the back of a proprietary invention, he cofounded and briefly oversaw the research and development activities at start-up company Salient Energy, which is now gearing towards manufacturing grid-scale AZBs from low-cost, abundant materials. Moving forward, he aims to unravel the underlying failure mechanisms and foster AZBs commercial prospect through electro-chemical optimisation and scale-up.

“A realistic understanding of energy storage systems, which is crucial for the translation of materials and component-level performance into device-level metrics, will always be a central theme of my work.”
Dr Dipan Kundu, Senior Lecturer, UNSW Chemical Engineering

Following his successful work in Canada, he returned to Switzerland where he was awarded an AU$850k fellowship from the Swiss government (SNSF Ambizione) to set up his team. This is when Dipan formally started exploring the field of solid electrolytes (SEs) and solid-state batteries, which is garnering a tremendous amount of interest, particularly in the electric car industry.

“Currently, every commercially available battery for electric cars uses liquid electrolytes, which can be highly flammable, so there is a strong drive in the research community in collaboration with the automotive industries to move from liquid to purely solid electrolytes which would not catch fire,” he explains.

“Besides the discovery of novel Li/Na-electrolytes with superionic conductivity, the kinetic stability of solid electrolytes under practical limits, concerning the choice of electrochemically active/nonactive components and operational conditions, is another key area of my interest.”

According to Dipan, sulphide SEs are attractive for their high ionic conductivities and ease of processability, and there have been some recent breakthroughs documenting conductivities on par with commercial liquid electrolytes. As yet, however, there is a dearth of comprehensive understanding about their performance, particularly under realistic operational conditions.

“I’m working to quantify the kinetic stability of sulphide SEs under practical limits which are not only vital for the device level integration of ‘breakthrough’ SEs but can also shed light on unsuspected and unique (electro)chemistries of fundamental importance,” he continues.

Describing himself as an “application-driven researcher,” Dipan says underlying all his research is the desire to focus on technologies that have a good prospect of coming to the market.

“I would say my ultimate, long-term goal is to apply the knowledge I have acquired in electrochemical and materials engineering towards realising competitive performance across families of electrochemical energy storage devices,” he explains.

“A realistic understanding of those systems, which is crucial for the translation of materials and component-level performance into device-level metrics, will always be a central theme of my work.”

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