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Eric Kazyak
September 6, 2022

Focus on new faculty: Eric Kazyak, investigating interfaces to enable improved batteries

Written By: Adam Malecek


For society to transition from fossil fuels to renewable, but intermittent, energy sources such as wind and solar, there is a pressing need for new energy storage technologies that can keep the power on when the sun isn’t shining or the wind fades.

While current storage technologies such as lithium ion batteries are highly useful for powering electric vehicles and other electronics, they have downsides. For one, the process of mining critical materials to make these batteries significantly damages the environment. In addition, the price of lithium has been steadily increasing, largely due to the growing demand for electric vehicles, and this is among the factors driving up prices for those vehicles.

“We need other options for energy storage that can be scaled up to the massive scale necessary for things like electric vehicles and grid-scale storage, without causing extreme harm to the environment, and at a relatively modest cost, so that it’s widely accessible,” says Eric Kazyak, who joined the Department of Mechanical Engineering as an assistant professor in fall 2022.

Kazyak, who focuses on understanding the interfaces between materials in energy storage systems, hopes his research will lead to next-generation batteries that are less costly and more sustainable.

“The performance and stability of a battery is affected by the interfaces between different materials,” he says. “My expertise is in understanding why those interfaces and materials behave the way they do, and then using that understanding to rationally design interfaces for improved battery performance.”

Kazyak earned his master’s degree and PhD in mechanical engineering from the University of Michigan and was a postdoctoral fellow at Michigan prior to joining UW-Madison.

One main thrust of his research is investigating so-called “beyond lithium” batteries, such as sodium ion batteries or sodium metal batteries.

Since sodium is far more abundant on earth than lithium, batteries that use sodium could be much less expensive for applications in electric vehicles and grid storage. In his research, Kazyak is working to overcome various challenges posed by sodium-based batteries to enable this technology.

In addition, Kazyak’s research will help inform decisions on what to do with the millions of currently-in-use lithium-based batteries when they reach their end of life.

For example, when a battery used in an electric vehicle eventually declines from an initial 300-mile range to a range of only 200 miles, it’s considered at the end of its life. However, Kazyak says that “dead” electric vehicle battery might still have 70% of its capacity remaining, and it could potentially be repurposed for other applications such as grid storage, where fast charging ability isn’t necessary and the battery’s low cost makes it an attractive option.

“Or does it make sense to open up that spent battery and repair it so it can be used again in an electric vehicle? Or perhaps it would be better to break it down to its raw materials and re-manufacture it,” he says. “There are a lot of different options, but in order to know which option is best, you need to know what’s going on inside the battery.”

Kazyak conducts experiments, which include in situ and operando characterization, to provide that understanding of a battery’s inner workings.

At UW-Madison, he envisions his research extending beyond energy storage. For example, he says his expertise in interfaces is useful for tackling challenges in areas such as catalysis and additive manufacturing.

Kazyak is part of a cluster hire of faculty in the College of Engineering focused on energy storage, and he’s looking forward to many research collaborations.

“I think the UW-Madison College of Engineering is putting together an extremely strong team of researchers with these new cluster hires, and this environment will provide ample opportunities for collaboration that should lead to many fruitful outcomes in the near future,” he says.