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Toyota in hunt for novel battery materials

Research will cost $35 million and draw on six research organizations

by Alex Scott
April 5, 2017 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 95, Issue 15

Credit: Toyota
Toyota is looking to improve on its existing range of lithium-ion batteries for powering cars.
A photo of a Toyota lithium-ion battery for powering cars.
Credit: Toyota
Toyota is looking to improve on its existing range of lithium-ion batteries for powering cars.

Toyota’s research arm, the Toyota Research Institute, will invest about $35 million over the next four years to develop advanced battery materials and fuel cell catalysts.

Toyota has been a leader in developing hybrid electric cars such as the Prius, but in the full-electric car market its battery technology trails that of Tesla. Toyota hopes to close the gap with research that merges computational materials modeling, new sources of experimental data, machine learning, and artificial intelligence. Its goal is to reduce the time it takes to develop new materials.

Toyota’s move to use computer technology for developing novel chemistries follows BASF’s recent decision to buy a supercomputer to accelerate research in fields such as catalysis.

Toyota will collaborate with Stanford University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Michigan, the State University of New York at Buffalo, the University of Connecticut, and the British materials science company Ilika.

Ilika has been working with Toyota on solid-state batteries since 2008. The partners were recently granted a U.S. patent on a vapor deposition process for producing solid-state batteries directly from basic elements. Further joint patents in the field are pending, Ilika says.

Toyota says it will work with its partners in three areas: new models and materials for batteries and fuel cells; novel uses of machine learning, artificial intelligence, and informatics for materials development; and automated materials discovery systems that integrate simulation, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and robotics.

Jens Norskov, professor of engineering at Stanford University and director of the SUNCAT Center for Interface Science & Catalysis, will help adapt artificial intelligence to developing catalysts for fuel cells. The project is an “opportunity to drastically advance the use of databases and machine learning methods in materials discovery,” Norskov says.


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