Hunter Ford (Schaefer Group)

Understanding the Interplay of Polymer Chemistry and Morphology on Polysulfide Transport in Metal-Sulfur Rechargeable Batteries

October 21, 2020

Eilers Hunter Ford

Hunter Ford is a fifth-year graduate student advised by Prof. Jennifer Schaefer in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. He presented "Understanding the Interplay of Polymer Chemistry and Morphology on Polysulfide Transport in Metal-Sulfur Rechargeable Batteries” at the ND Energy PD&GS Seminar in October 2020.

Ford received a 2020 Patrick and Jana Eilers Graduate Student Fellowship for Energy Related Research for his work in the field of energy storage. His focus is on rechargeable sulfur-based batteries, which have great potential for electric transportation.

“Sulfur-based batteries use cheap, ethical, and sustainable materials and hold the promise to store significant amounts of energy,” Ford said.

One of the major challenges with these batteries is the migration of the sulfur through the cell during operation. This causes the battery to lose capacity quickly. Ford is investigating ways to use polymers, or plastics, to keep the sulfur in the battery cathode so that the capacity is maintained through many cycles of charging and discharging.

“In addition to being well-suited for electric vehicles, sulfur batteries may be paired with renewable energy generation, such as solar and wind, to store energy from peak generation times to be used at peak consumption hours,” Ford said.

After graduating from Hope College in Holland, Michigan, Ford spent a few years in product engineering before deciding to return to school to get his Ph.D. His research interest in battery chemistry is inspired by the goal of transitioning to electric transportation to mitigate the effects of climate change.

“We must transition to a carbon neutral, or negative, society as fast as possible or face serious effects of climate change, such as loss of coastal regions and diminished food/water access, which may lead to geopolitical destabilization,” Ford said, adding that the transition to electric vehicles is an economic necessity as well. “If you want to have car manufacturing continue to be a successful American enterprise, we need to have the researchers and technology to make electric vehicles happen.”

To aid his research, Ford utilizes many instruments at the Materials Characterization Facility, such as the UV-Vis, FTIR, Raman microscope, and BET surface area analyzer. Other facilities he uses include the Notre Dame Integrated Imaging Facility and the Center for Environmental Science and Technology.

Outside of the lab, Ford helped develop a classroom module focused on batteries and polymers that will be used by ND Energy for K-12 outreach activities.  This kit also will be scaled and distributed to teachers in the local community. After his initial involvement, the project was passed on to an undergraduate student Ford mentored, energy studies minor Emma Kerr.