The College of Engineering had not one, not two, but three Fulbright Awardees conducting research this year as part of the prestigious international Fulbright program. Alexis Maurel, Ph.D., and Victor Boudeville are here in the Sun City from France, while Mahyar Khorasani, Ph.D., joined from the University from Australia. Their research projects focused on additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing.
Eric MacDonald, Ph.D., a professor in UTEP’s Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering and the associate dean for research and graduate studies in the College of Engineering, was instrumental in bringing all three researchers to the University, encouraging them to apply to the Fulbright program in order to take advantage of the top-tier research facilities on campus.
“The fact that UTEP can recruit visiting researchers from Europe and Australia is a testament to the high-impact work going on here – particularly in advanced manufacturing of 3D-printed batteries and multi-material complex geometries,” MacDonald said.
From France to El Paso: Engineering a Brighter Future for Lithium-Ion Batteries
No matter the country, finding innovative ways to improve technology is at the forefront of research across the globe. Researchers Maurel and Boudeville are exploring a better future for lithium-ion batteries through 3D printing.
“These batteries are just everywhere – cellphones, laptops, electric vehicles, smartwatches – so everyone has at least one,” Maurel said. “That’s why it’s becoming so important right now.”
Rechargeable lithium-ion batteries operate by employing electrolytes — liquids capable of transporting lithium ions — to transfer positively charged lithium-ions from the anode (the battery’s negative side) to the cathode (the positive side), back and forth. The process generates an electrical charge that powers the device.
“Unfortunately, these batteries have some issues” Maurel said. “If you take a look at what is inside a battery, you have different components: two electrodes (one positive and one negative), and in between you have also what you call a separator soaked with the electrolyte. Right now, all these components are stacked together. This is what we call a planar geometry. Such battery architecture considerably limits the power performance of the battery – how fast you can charge your device – and of course, what we want to do is to improve this performance.” 
To solve many of the common issues these batteries face, Maurel and Boudeville are attempting to 3D print lithium-ion batteries with intricate geometries that would ultimately provide enhanced power. Another advantage of 3D printing is that it opens the development for shape-conformable batteries. For example, instead of a battery in your smartwatch just existing inside the interface, the entire watch – band and all – could be the battery, increasing its potential and lifespan. 
“Before coming to UTEP, I developed different filaments for batteries applications,” said Boudeville, a third-year Ph.D. student who arrived at UTEP in September 2023 as a Fulbright fellow. “My Ph.D. is focused on 3D printing of batteries and fused deposit modeling. Here at UTEP, I’m focused on doing the 3D printing of the battery. I’m using the formulation that I did to manufacture different parts of the batteries (filaments) to increase the performance and develop better batteries for high performance technologies.”
Maurel earned his Ph.D. from the Laboratoire de Réactivité et Chimie des Solides at the Université de Picardie Jules Verne in Amiens, France. He met MacDonald while at a conference he co-hosted in Chile. MacDonald encouraged Maurel to apply for the Fulbright Award so he could conduct postdoctoral research at UTEP. Maurel applied, and to his delight, was accepted and began his journey at UTEP in spring 2021.
Boudeville is completing his Ph.D. at the same French university. After learning about Maurel’s research at UTEP, he followed in his footsteps and applied for the Fulbright, allowing him to conduct a portion of his dissertation research here.
Though El Paso is thousands of miles away from France, the two said they have found a second home here.
Ford Motor Company’s Big Dive into 3D Printing
Khorasani made the more than 20-hour plane trip from Australia to El Paso to serve as a Fulbright Fellow at UTEP.
His research expertise also deals with 3D printing but on a larger scale. As a researcher with Ford Motor Company, he focuses on 3D printing polymer-based safety components for the automotive industry.
“I work on Multi Jet fusion to produce some safety [components] for cars, and the process that I use is quite faster than normal additive manufacturing processes,” Khorasani said. Multi Jet fusion refers to a new 3D printing technology that works to manufacture more parts in less time. “The importance of this project is producing complex components with a faster production rate suitable for mass customizing and mass production for the automotive industry.”
Khorasani earned his Ph.D. in Additive Manufacturing from Deakin University in Australia and worked in the industry with Airbus Aerospace Company in the Netherlands and the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology and Boeing in Melbourne. He currently serves as a design engineer with Ford Motor Company. 
Khorasani reached out to MacDonald to see if UTEP could host him. The duo worked on Khorasani’s Fulbright proposal together, which earned Khorasani acceptance into the program. He came to UTEP in May 2023 and completed his time here in October 2023. 
“We’ve done five months of great projects with great success,” Khorasani said.
The Fulbright program connects researchers to an international experience, allowing them to not only grow as researchers but to positively impact the communities they join. 
“The Fulbright Scholar Program is a great opportunity for international teams to collaborate face-to-face and to explore a more diverse range of novel ideas, including 3D printing of complex geometries with multiple and functional materials,” MacDonald said.
To learn more about the Fulbright Award or to receive assistance for your application, visit the Office Student Fellowships and Awards website at https://www.utep.edu/student-affairs/student-fellowships-awards/.
Last Updated on November 14, 2023 at 12:00 AM | Originally published November 14, 2023
By Julia Hettiger UTEP Marketing and Communications