Engineers at Clemson University are developing next-generation batteries that charge faster, last longer and can be scaled to fit a variety of vehicle classes. The Clemson Nanomaterials Institute (CNI) is working on the project with Atlis Motor Vehicles Inc.

A start-up based in Mesa, AZ, Atlis is developing an electric pickup truck with a 500-mile range and a battery that recharges in less than 15 minutes. The XT is aimed at commercial users in the agriculture, construction, service and utility industries. The vehicle will meet the size, refueling, towing and payload capabilities of conventional diesel-powered pickup trucks.

The XT will be built on a modular XP platform that will enable Atlis to produce commercial vehicles in other configurations, such as ambulances, delivery vans, fire trucks, recreational vehicles, step vans or box trucks.

The “skateboard” architecture features a drive module that is scalable all the way up to a 10,000-pound capacity per axle without requiring hardware upgrades. Each module contains brake systems, drive systems, suspension and steering systems, which all use drive-by-wire technology. The XP also contains the battery pack and the frame structure.

The CNI is located at the Clemson University Advanced Materials Research Laboratory. “[We] specialize in studying the fundamental properties and applications of a broad range of nanomaterials,” says Apparao Rao, Ph.D., the director of CNI who focuses on energy harvesting and energy storage applications. “[Our goal is to develop] cutting-edge multidisciplinary research that can widen the frontiers of nanoscience and significantly impact industrial technologies.”

CNI was established in 2013 and currently contains 5,000 square feet of research space, plus a variety of synthesis and characterization equipment. It has seven active agreements with industrial partners. Ten faculty members and 25 students use the facility for various collaborative projects.

The battery R&D effort is being led by Rao. He and his colleagues are assisting Atlis with the development of its proprietary battery technology.

Unlike existing cell designs, the battery will utilize custom coatings to strike a balance between energy and power. According to Rao, these coatings, coupled with a special mechanical construction, will lead to optimized energy capacity and reduced charging time.

The technology features a minimum number of components, which reduces assembly cost and complexity, while providing an ultra-fast charging structure. Atlis intends to utilize formulations developed by its collaboration with CNI to improve the overall function and structure of the battery. It also plans to adapt the technology for use in future vehicle offerings.

“I was presented with the opportunity to partner with Atlis through one of my former students who is now an engineer at the company,” says Rao. “Through this collaborative effort, I have not only been able to utilize my proficiency in nanomaterials to assist in further developing this superior cell technology, but I have also had the opportunity to provide an atmosphere where my students and postdoctoral researchers can experience firsthand the steps taken by industry to develop a product and bring it to market.

“This partnership highlights that CNI is a hub where academia-industrial partnerships are fostered…to create new technologies,” explains Rao.

“This is an exciting example of how collaborative efforts between scholars and practitioners can benefit both our academic and entrepreneurial stakeholders,” adds Mark Hanchett, CEO of Atlis Motor Vehicles. “Our team, along with Clemson’s CNI researchers, will be conducting critical research to bring innovative battery technology to market.”