SoE Professor is All Charged Up

Rutgers Chancellor’s Fund Supports Collaborative Lithium-Ion Battery Research Projects

Zhimin Xi, an assistant professor in the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, is a co-PI on two year-long research projects funded by Rutgers University and the School of Engineering. The two projects focus on developing resilient lithium-ion battery systems to support their future adoption by unmanned aerial vehicles with shared battery systems and electrified roads with integrated systems of renewable energy, and the battery system of electrified vehicles.

“Through the call for Team Science Initiative  proposals from the School of Engineering I connected with mechanical and aerospace engineering professor Laurent Burlion and civil engineering professor Hao Wang, who each needed lithium-ion batteries for their applications,” Xi recalls. “Thus, we quickly came up with the ideas for the two projects.”

The Team Science Initiative encourages and provides support for collaborative efforts among new faculty from diverse scientific backgrounds, who bring their own areas of expertise to bear on a given multidisciplinary research project.

Exploring Battery Sharing for UAVs

Xi has teamed up with Burlion on “Batteries Sharing for Autonomous Aerial Vehicles,” a multidisciplinary project at the frontier of aerospace and electrical engineering.

According to Xi, since unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are powered by lithium-ion batteries, any changes in design or maneuverability impact the power consumption of the batteries, which, in turn, is directly related to the UAV’s mission success.

“We are  developing drones for which the battery and flight control algorithms are designed at the same time, to build more efficient drones,” explains Burlion.

“I can quickly provide feedback to Burlion to let him know if his UAV design and control are energy efficient,” Xi explains. While current technology requires that a UAV return to a charging station, the project will also be exploring real-time charging  of UAVs during flight by shared battery systems.

Since the start of the project in January, the two have met regularly. “A drone test bench has been specially designed by my lab so that Xi’s lab can work on more representative load profiles for drone batteries than the traditional ones,” says Burlion. “The next phase of the project will be devoted to extending these ideas to several drones.”

Burlion adds, “we will work on a modular drone that requires the in-flight assembly and disassembly of a fleet of drones that can share their batteries. Such in-flight charging could be used to keep one of the drones in flight indefinitely.”

Xi explains, “I need to know the battery states from a fleet of UAVs so that real-time charging decisions can be made to complete the mission for a fleet of UAVs. Optimal UAV battery decisions can extend the mission time for a fleet of UAVs because we will know exactly when and how much we would need to share batteries.”

A Sustainable Electrified Roads for Electrified Vehicles

Xi is co-PI with Wang on “Advancing Sustainability Through Electrified Infrastructure for Energy-Mobility Nexus.” In this theoretical project, the team has developed a vision of a future transportation system of electrified roads able to directly charge electrified vehicles as they drive.

While the technology to do this is available through wireless charging, Xi notes that in order to provide enough power to an electrified road, renewable solar, and wind energy would need to be harvested from roadside assets. “Renewable energy is not stable and would need to be stored to lithium-ion battery energy storage systems,” he says. “With sufficient capacity, these battery storage systems could power the electrified road when there is a high charging demand from electrified vehicles.”

Ultimately, after studying the feasibility of the system in terms of cost, scalability, and environmental and societal impacts, Xi hopes that such large-scale lithium-ion battery storage systems could be an ideal buffer system among renewable energy, an electrified roadway, and the power grid. “I hope the theoretical study created in this project can remove one barrier from making this a reality.”

While Xi’s research on these projects is an extension of a recently completed $400,000 National Science Foundation (NSF) funded research on lithium-ion battery health management of electrified vehicles, he remains interested in battery management systems, or BMS, in electrified vehicles, particularly in terms of their reliability during the lifecycle of the vehicle itself. “Although many people like electrified vehicles, I still worry about their lifetime reliability, especially when these batteries degrade and become more difficult to handle by current BMS,” he says.