Skip to Content

Molinaroli College of Engineering and Computing

  • energy storage battery facility

Lowering costs and improving efficiency for battery storage

USC is partnering with energy storage company Pomega to develop large scale energy storage batteries. 

Grid-scale energy storage is a critical component to ensure the resiliency of the grid. Storage can provide backup power during severe weather events or lighten the load on traditional generation technologies like natural gas power plants and even enable the broader use of solar power. 

Because batteries can be installed almost everywhere, they are becoming a popular option for grid-scale energy storage. To better understand this emerging technology, Associate Dean for Research and Chemical Engineering Professor William Mustain is leading research into developing high fidelity digital twins (models) for large scale energy storage batteries. The research will be performed in collaboration with chemical engineering professors Ralph White and Golareh Jalilvand, and Chemistry and Biochemistry Professor Morgan Stefik

The project is funded through more than $700,00 from the SC Fraunhofer Alliance and Pomega Energy Storage Technologies. The alliance is a collaborative effort to advance applied research across South Carolina and its research institutions. In December 2022, Pomega announced plans to construct a $300 million lithium-ion battery facility in Colleton County, South Carolina. Once operational by the end of this year, the plant will focus on developing and manufacturing large format batteries for grid-scale energy storage. 

Pomega will be in South Carolina for the foreseeable future, and this is only the start of our relationship.

- William Mustain

Efficient, low-cost and reliable battery storage is essential for transitioning to low-carbon electricity. The research project aims to provide cost-saving breakthroughs in battery manufacturing processes and materials, particularly for Pomega’s South Carolina facility.

“When we met with Pomega last March, they were impressed with our battery chemistry work, which was important to them. They also talked with us about the fundamental work that can be done together,” Mustain says. “We then linked with the SC Fraunhofer Alliance in May and worked on a proposal that the board of directors liked and decided to fund.”

Phase one of the research began this past January with the goal of developing an innovative digital twin of Pomega batteries, which aims to provide a better understanding and improved operating control. This will lead to higher energy density, longer lifespan, faster charging and enhanced safety. The research will also provide parameters for Pomega to implement into their manufacturing process to reduce costs and enhance performance. 

White, who is an expert in electrochemical modeling, will develop the model. 

“The biggest challenge will be developing an accurate mathematical model for the anode (positively charged) in the Pomega battery. We will work closely with Professor Mustain and Pomega to obtain the necessary experimental data to develop the anode model,” White says. 

The digital twin will help guide Pomega’s design process and simulate the required next generation materials. Even though the first generation is not a physical product, it can be used for the physical product or to at least set targets. While innovating within a digital twin could mean building new math into a model or adding a new utility, this project’s innovations will be the ability to swap components digitally before they are implemented physically. 

“Once you build the digital twin of the physical system, you can ask questions without experimenting on the real system, saving time and money on research and development,” Mustain says. 

The other aspects of the project will build on better understanding the anode and cathode electrodes. Jalilvand will serve as the lead for understanding and developing the cathode, while Mustain will work on the anode component development.

“We want to achieve a uniform interaction between the cathode and the electrolyte across large electrodes, a key point for manufacturing commercially viable cathodes at scale,” Jalilvand says. “We have designed a multi-faceted approach to investigate the chemical and electrochemical reactions as well as physical changes at the cathode and electrolyte surface.”

According to Mustain, the experimental parameters will feed into the digital model. 

“Pomega is responsible for the active materials, while we’re doing electrode and cell integration, and the materials characterization,” Mustain says. “The data will be used to build a digital model for how the battery behaves. We’ll start with small coin cells, and scale it up.”

Phase two will focus on reducing energy consumption in manufacturing and integrating state of health and life into the model to allow for the implementation of next-generation battery management systems. Pomega systems will also be fitted with new sensors to measure variables that feed into an artificial intelligence-enhanced predictive maintenance. 

“Phase one is more foundational so we know how the battery will perform. Then we'll build in integrating and manufacturing in phase two,” Mustain says. “When we talked to the SC Fraunhofer Alliance, they wanted real, tangible impacts on product development.” 

Mustain added that the success of the project could have far-reaching economic impacts. Pomega can sell more grid-scale batteries worldwide, leading to an increase in hiring and building manufacturing capability. 

“Our project fits into Pomega’s goal of growing well past the $300 million initial investment,” Mustain says. “Another impact is workforce development, and the most critical area is integrating students. One of the great outcomes would be to train them how Pomega's batteries operate, so it creates a pipeline of USC students getting full-time employment.” 

Mustain is excited about the project and its potential for South Carolina and beyond. While his group will work on cutting-edge material sets that they have never used before, the project is also considered the first step toward a larger, long-term relationship between USC and Pomega. 

“I'm excited to see how it [material] behaves when it’s tested. Knowing that they’re at an early stage of research and development, we can really put our work through the paces,” Mustain says. 

The project will also grow the research network, specifically around grid-scale storage, with USC and industry partners.

“Pomega will be in South Carolina for the foreseeable future, and this is only the start of our relationship,” Mustain says. “I’m really looking forward to maintaining that long-term relationship and making our work as successful as possible.”

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.