North Carolina BATT CAVE Research Center to accelerate innovations in batteries

North Carolina BATT CAVE Research Center to accelerate innovations in batteries
Thursday, June 1, 2023

It isn’t the secret, subterranean headquarters of a masked superhero and a turbocharged car, but the North Carolina BATT CAVE Research Center may very well transform the future of battery technology and the vehicles that use it. 

The Battery Complexity, Autonomous Vehicle and Electrification Research Center is the first and only university-led research center in the state focused on advancing the fast-growing field of battery technology, safety and electrification. This critical research will be directly applicable to vehicles, in particular electric vehicles. Electric vehicle manufacturing is projected to increase 17% over the next decade, making it one of the fastest-growing industries in the U.S. as well as North Carolina.

A number of companies have relocated or announced expansions in the state recently, including: Albemarle Corp., alpitronic America, Arrival, Atom Power, VinFast and Toyota, growing battery-related operations and creating thousands of jobs. On May 31, Toyota also announced an additional $2 billion investment in the state

“North Carolina is emerging as a major hub for electric vehicle technology and battery manufacturing,” said Chancellor Sharon L. Gaber. “As North Carolina’s urban research university, UNC Charlotte is uniquely positioned to drive new knowledge in this emerging energy space. Through the North Carolina BATT CAVE Research Center, we are investing in our state's future and further solidifying UNC Charlotte as a national leader in transformational energy.”

Albemarle Corporation and alpitronic America both cited the proximity and access to the University’s research and facilities as incentives for their recent  investments in the Charlotte region. Atom Power was founded by UNC Charlotte alumnus Ryan Kennedy, based on technology created while he was an electrical engineering student. 

BATT CAVE will drive advancements and innovation through: 

  • Unparalleled Expertise - Internationally recognized expert in battery safety and modeling, Jun Xu serves as the center’s director, providing research expertise in multi-functional energy storage systems. Xu leads the international Battery Safety Workshop, held annually at UNC Charlotte.
  • Solution-Focused Partnerships - Academic collaborators, government agencies and industry partners will support BATT CAVE's work toward next-gen solutions to refine battery safety, durability, manufacturing and vehicle integration critical for smart and connected cities. 
  • Talent Pipeline Expansion - The center, offering students experiential learning with applied research, will build a talent pipeline more deeply skilled for this growing sector in North Carolina and beyond. 

Through Engineering North Carolina’s Future – a historic investment of more than $40 million from North Carolina’s General Assembly – the University will focus on growing enrollment in engineering, technology and data science by an additional 2,000 undergraduate and graduate students during the next five years. The funds supported the renovation of BATT CAVE facilities, the purchase of state-of-the-art equipment, and will support the recruitment of new faculty. 

“The battery investigations will be designed to discover new materials, challenge fundamental electrochemical theories and develop mechanistic modeling for developing alternative types of batteries, which will provide even broader implications for the next generation of autonomous vehicles, smart cities and intelligent systems,” said Robert Keynton, dean of the William States Lee College of Engineering. “Our background in automotive research, plus our newly expanded research capabilities in batteries and electrification, will allow UNC Charlotte to continue fueling the growth of North Carolina’s economy through research and development. The North Carolina BATT CAVE Research Center is another key example of how the college is contributing to North Carolina’s progress.”

The center leverages the strong automotive research foundation established over the past two decades, including the successful Kulwicki Motorsports Lab and the related academic program, which has produced over 20% of all engineers for the NASCAR Cup Series race teams. The motorsports program will continue to lead in producing qualified graduates, particularly as the industry explores the role of electrification in racing.