Speaker Interview: William A. Paxton, Research Engineer, Ford Motor Company

William PaxtonIn the run-up to Conference @ Ceramics Expo 2018, we spoke to William A. Paxton, Research Engineer at Ford Motor Company, about his focus areas and the potential for advanced ceramic materials in next-generation battery technology in automotive applications. Willliam will be speaking on the 'Identifying Opportunities for Advanced Ceramic Materials in Automotive Applications' session on Wednesday May 2, Track 1.

William joined Ford in 2014 as a Research Engineer working in the Energy Storage Department within Research and Advanced Engineering. There, his research is focused on solid-state battery technology and lithium-ion battery degradation mechanisms. 


Please tell us about your role as research engineer at Ford Motor Company. What are your key focus areas and responsibilities? 

My role at Ford is focused on the material science and chemistry in next-generation automotive propulsion batteries. I work within a team dedicated to understanding and solving the challenges associated with the synthesis, processing, and performance of electrode, electrolyte, and inactive battery materials. I also focus on characterization using X-ray diffraction both in our laboratory and at synchrotron user facilities.

 

What excites and challenges you about your work?

For me, the challenges are what excites me. In the United States, cars and trucks account for almost 20% of the country’s CO2 emissions. When we fully transition to battery electric vehicles, we have the best shot at reducing the carbon impact by charging those vehicles with renewable energy sources. Part of getting there is developing a new generation of lighter and more powerful batteries.

 

What applications are you developing and what are the current material challenges that these applications are facing?

Primarily, I am focusing on solid-state battery technology where a conventional liquid carbonate electrolyte is replaced with a ceramic lithium conducting material. This is desirable because it creates a solid barrier between the electrodes, which can improve the safety of the battery. It can also allow for a lithium metal negative electrode, which greatly increases cell energy density. This approach comes with many challenges, though; high-impedance interfaces and unwanted side reactions being the most noteworthy. We are working on novel solutions for these problems in our laboratory.

 

What future material requirements do you foresee within your industry? 

Future materials must be earth-abundant, have high thermal stability, and provide minimal inactive mass. Additionally, they should have improved electronic and ionic conductivity and higher lithium storage capacity.  

 

How can ceramic materials contribute to these trends, and how do they enable future technologies?

The present strategy is to use lithium-conducting ceramics as an electrolyte and separator against a lithium metal negative electrode and a high-voltage positive electrode. While the ceramic would be a higher mass than a polymer counterpart, it enables the use of lithium metal by providing a barrier for lithium metal dendrites. A ceramic electrolyte could also provide a wider voltage stability window to enable positive electrodes with higher voltages than what is used today.

 

“To supply a future where most vehicles are equipped with solid-state batteries, the supply chain will need to be able to produce high-purity, thin sheets of the solid electrolyte with engineered microstructures in a low-cost, high-throughput environment”

 

What is needed from the supply chain to support this?

From the supply chain perspective, these technologies are still in research phases and thus specific requirements are not established yet. However, to supply a future where most vehicles are equipped with solid-state batteries, the supply chain will need to be able to produce high-purity, thin sheets of the solid electrolyte with engineered microstructures in a low-cost, high-throughput environment.

 

In terms of industry news, what development, announcement, or otherwise stood out most to you in 2017?

I am always interested in the advancement of ceramic processing and, in particular, that of flash sintering. Sintering under the presence of an applied electric field, flash sintering offers the ability to greatly reduce the time and energy associated with densifying ceramics. If it can be used to create the electrolytes needed for a solid-state battery, that could help speed the transition to an all-electric transportation future.

 

We’re looking forward to seeing you at Ceramics Expo 2018. Can you tell us what you’re most looking forward to at the show?

I am looking forward to hearing the many great talks planned for the conference!


Willliam will be speaking on the 'Identifying Opportunities for Advanced Ceramic Materials in Automotive Applications' session on Wednesday May 2, Track 1.