This could be big. The US Department of Energy has announced a five-year, $120-million award for a team of 14 companies, universities and national laboratories led by Argonne National Laboratory that will be charged with creating next-generation batteries for use in vehicles and the grid. In short, a sort of "Manhattan Project" for advanced EV packs.

Officially called the Batteries and Energy Storage Hub, aka the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR), was announced by US Secretary of Energy Steven Chu as well as Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), Illinois Governor Pat Quinn and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. As you might guess for that list, the Argonne National Laboratory is in Illinois.

The state of Illinois is kicking in $5 million to build out the JCESR facility at Argonne in suburban Chicago, while Quinn is trying to work up another $30 million for the building. The battery-specific efforts are centered around improving storage capacity, which will both help automakers get a better single-charge range and communities to add battery-assisted infrastructure. Single-charge range and infrastructure have both been viewed as stumbling blocks in terms of getting faster adoption of EVs.

Other entities in the group include the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories, Northwestern University and University of Chicago, as well as Dow Chemical Co. and Johnson Controls. The latter company is expected to bid on bankrupt lithium-ion battery producer A123 Systems later this month. Check out the DOE's release about the Energy Storage Hub below.
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Team Led by Argonne National Lab Selected as DOE's Batteries and Energy Storage Hub

WASHINGTON – U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu was joined today by Senator Dick Durbin, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to announce that a multi-partner team led by Argonne National Laboratory has been selected for an award of up to $120 million over five years to establish a new Batteries and Energy Storage Hub. The Hub, to be known as the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR), will combine the R&D firepower of five DOE national laboratories, five universities, and four private firms in an effort aimed at achieving revolutionary advances in battery performance. Advancing next generation battery and energy storage technologies for electric and hybrid cars and the electricity grid are a critical part of President Obama's all-of-the-above energy strategy to reduce America's reliance on foreign oil and lower energy costs for U.S. consumers.

"This is a partnership between world leading scientists and world leading companies, committed to ensuring that the advanced battery technologies the world needs will be invented and built right here in America," said Secretary Chu. "Based on the tremendous advances that have been made in the past few years, there are very good reasons to believe that advanced battery technologies can and will play an increasingly valuable role in strengthening America's energy and economic security by reducing our oil dependence, upgrading our aging power grid, and allowing us to take greater advantage of intermittent energy sources like wind and solar."

"This new Hub brings together, under a single organizational roof, the world's leading scientists, engineers and manufacturers in energy storage and provides them with the tools, resources and market reach necessary to produce major breakthroughs," said U.S. Senator Dick Durbin. "The large-scale, innovative research and transformational new battery systems that will result from this venture will mean more effective, lower cost and longer life energy storage technologies with real world applications for anything that can use a rechargeable battery. The project promises to have a significant economic impact across Illinois with the help of towns and businesses who have already agreed to partner on the commercialization of promising technology developed at the Hub."

"The research at the Energy Storage Hub has the potential to revolutionize the energy industry," said Senator Kirk. "From transportation to the electric grid, the Hub will bring the private sector, national labs and universities together to deliver new technologies and scientific approaches needed to transform the battery and energy storage industry and spur commercial innovation. The Hub at Argonne will help boost our local economy and create new jobs. Today's announcement further establishes Illinois and Argonne as a leader in this growing industry."

Governor Quinn is providing $5 million through his Illinois Jobs Now! capital construction plan to help build the state-of-the-art JCESR facility, which will be located on the Argonne National Laboratory campus in suburban Chicago. Additionally, the Governor has committed to working with the General Assembly to provide an additional $30 million in future capital funding for the building, which will serve as a nationwide center for energy storage research and is a key part of the governor's plan to create jobs and grow Illinois' economy through cutting-edge innovation.

"Illinois is the birthplace of innovations that have changed the world, including the web browser, the cell phone and the ultrasound," Governor Pat Quinn said. "As I said during my State of the State address, this innovative center will attract the best minds from across our state and country to turn cutting-edge scientific research into new companies that will create more American jobs and revolutionize our energy economy."

"Argonne has a long tradition of exceptional leadership on energy research, and the DOE's selection of Argonne for this exciting project will cement its role as the nation's leading facility for advanced battery technology," said Representative Judy Biggert (IL-13). "Most importantly, this project will give scientists and researchers the best environment in which to develop the next generation of energy storage to power our homes, cars, and industries in the decades to come. I applaud the team at Argonne on winning the project, and I thank my colleagues from across the Midwest who worked with us to make it happen."

"This award sets up Argonne National Laboratory to be the world leader in an emerging field that will promote American energy independence, make green energy more available and affordable, and grow manufacturing in the region," said Representative Dan Lipinski (IL-03). "I believe this new facility will bring a significant return on the investment for our nation and especially for the communities around Argonne."

"Since taking office, I have been focused on making Chicago the electric vehicle and batteries capital of the nation," said Mayor Rahm Emanuel. "This includes creating incentives to encourage the adoption of electric vehicles, attracting companies to manufacture electric vehicles, and now, working with Argonne to make sure that Chicago is at the epicenter of research on this subject. All of these pieces fit together into a comprehensive strategy that will allow Chicago to lead in this industry, from conception to construction to implementation. I will continue to work to attract more companies, create more jobs and foster more economic development in this crucial space."

The new Hub will integrate efforts at several successful independent research programs into a larger, coordinated effort designed to push the limits on battery advances. Advancements in batteries and energy storage technology are essential for continued efforts to develop a fundamentally new energy economy with decisively reduced dependence on imported oil. Improved storage will be vital to fully integrating intermittent renewable energy sources such as wind and solar into the electrical grid. It will also be critical to transitioning the transportation sector to more flexible grid power.

JCESR (pronounced "J-Caesar") will be directed by George W. Crabtree, Argonne Senior Scientist, Distinguished Fellow and Associate Division Director; Distinguished Professor of Physics, Electrical and Mechanical Engineering, University of Illinois at Chicago; and an internationally recognized leader in energy research.

"The JCESR batteries and energy storage hub gives us a new collaborative, inter-institutional R&D paradigm in which to develop the energy storage technologies that transform both the electricity grid and transportation and so reduce our dependence on foreign oil,' said Eric Isaacs, Director of Argonne National Laboratory.

The Hub will bring together some of the most advanced energy storage research programs in the U.S. today. Other national labs partnering with Argonne include Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories, and SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. University partners include Northwestern University, University of Chicago, University of Illinois-Chicago, University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign, and University of Michigan. Four industrial partners have also joined to help clear a path to the marketplace for the advances developed at JCESR, including Dow Chemical Company; Applied Materials, Inc.; Johnson Controls, Inc.; and Clean Energy Trust.

"This ambitious initiative, which builds on Argonne National Laboratory's innovative work in advanced battery technology, will create new opportunities for technological research and economic development in the city of Chicago and the region," said Robert J. Zimmer, University of Chicago President. "It will rely on a public-private partnership to speed the development of environmentally sound energy storage capabilities, with potentially profound economic benefits. We are grateful to all of the public officials who helped make this possible, especially Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Governor Pat Quinn and Senator Richard Durbin, whose support and commitment to economic development through innovation have been vital."

Selected through an open national competition with a rigorous merit review process that relied on outside expert reviewers, JCESR is the fourth Energy Innovation Hub established by the Energy Department since 2010. Other Hubs are devoted to modeling and simulation of nuclear reactors, achieving major improvements in the energy efficiency of buildings, and developing fuels from sunlight. A fifth Hub focused on critical materials research was announced earlier this year and is still in the application process.

Energy Innovation Hubs are major integrated research centers with researchers from many different institutions and technical backgrounds that combine basic and applied research with engineering to accelerate scientific discovery in critical energy areas. They are modeled after the strong scientific management characteristics of the Manhattan Project, Lincoln Lab at MIT that developed radar, AT&T Bell Laboratories that developed the transistor and, more recently, the highly successful Bioenergy Research Centers established during the Bush Administration to pioneer advanced techniques in biotechnology, including biofuels.

Over the decades, DOE national laboratories and DOE-funded university research programs have been responsible for some of the most important advances in battery technology. For example, key battery improvements developed at Argonne helped make the Chevy Volt battery possible.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 31 Comments
      SublimeKnight
      • 2 Years Ago
      These two applications have diverging requirements (aside from cycle life). A battery for a car needs to be lightweight, compact (high specific energy and energy density), and high charge/discharge rates with cost of production falling out where it does. A battery for grid energy storage needs to be cheap with little consideration to weight or size. For example, if a battery was created that cost $1 per kwh (had excellent cycle life) but weighted 100lbs per kwh, that would be a non-starter for an EV battery, but a fantastic solution for grid storage.
        PeterScott
        • 2 Years Ago
        @SublimeKnight
        Agreed. Also high operating temperature batteries like Ambri's liquid metal battery are perfect grid solutions but not automotive solutions. http://www.ambri.com/ Liquid metal batteries have the potential for extremely long cycle life.
          SublimeKnight
          • 2 Years Ago
          @PeterScott
          Cool! Thanks for the link (the TED talk is really good). That's exactly what I was talking about. If we research for a single solution to both, we'll end up with solutions that aren't optimal for either.
      Letstakeawalk
      • 2 Years Ago
      "They are modeled after...the highly successful Bioenergy Research Centers established during the Bush Administration to pioneer advanced techniques in biotechnology, including biofuels." That should get a few chuckles. ;)
        Ford Future
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Letstakeawalk
        I have no problem giving Bush credit. Just think, had he not had Cheney-OilMoney as an Albatross around his neck, what could he have done?
          EZEE
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Ford Future
          I would be curious as to your -1. Did they not like giving bush credit, the oil thing, or just don't like you in general?
      Smith Jim
      • 2 Years Ago
      Americans spend roughly $1 billion per day on gasoline. $120 million over five years is pocket change.
        Actionable Mango
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Smith Jim
        I don't mind as long as long as there is proper oversight and success. If it's just throwing $120 million into a bottomless pit of despair and waste, then all I can say is that $120 million here and $120 million there add up to a trillion dollar deficit.
      Joeviocoe
      • 2 Years Ago
      More of an "X-Prize" than a Manhattan Project. The Manhattan Project was not an award, not a competition between several companies. But a massive and SECRET government project. All the scientists involved were brought together in one location and under specific direction of a project manager. This is NOTHING LIKE the Manhattan Project.
        Val
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Joeviocoe
        Yes, and a lot of the more famous scientists in the project were europeans, who were willing to do that because they believed it would end the war. And the cost wasn't 120 million dollars (or the equivalent in the 40s), it was hundreds of billions.
      Rob Mahrt
      • 2 Years Ago
      Said this in a reply to another comment but I think it is worth making sure people see this. The Manhattan Project was funded at a price of $25.8 billion (2012 dollars) over 6 years... this is 0.4% of that amount. The end game of the Manhattan Project was a weapon that can kill 100,000 people in a few minutes, directly and indirectly controlling and constraining U.S. policy decisions for going on 65 years. Investing $25 billion in battery research would do the exact opposite for the U.S. over the next 65 years.
        Spec
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Rob Mahrt
        But with the Manhattan project, they had a decent theoretical proof that what they would try to build would ultimately work. With batteries, we don't have a good roadmap. We have calculations on what theoretical best battery could do but there is no proof that there is any practical chemistry mixture that can come close to that theoretical best. Lithium-air batteries are probably the most promising as far as energy density goes but there is no solid proof that we can build a practical rechargeable Li-Air battery. So it is hard to commit a massive amount of money to something that you don't know if they can really produce results.
        Rob Mahrt
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Rob Mahrt
        So increase this amount by 250 times and we can talk. Cut taxes, that creates jobs, I swear.
          EZEE
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Rob Mahrt
          Whereas taking more money away from businesses causes them to hire as well?
      cointel
      • 2 Years Ago
      If you want to improve battery technology, you need to get the physics correct before starting a Manhattan Project. Based on what I am seeing, I am surprised of the technological progress that has been made.
      • 2 Years Ago
      Given the number of press releases about potentially groundbreaking new battery technologies, I can see some value in having all the testing and engineering expertise and facilities available under one umbrella. Envia for example might accelerate their R&D and commercialization of their technology which in fact is based on work they have licenced from Argonne labs.
      Letstakeawalk
      • 2 Years Ago
      Clean Energy Trust isn't an "industrial partner - CET is a "business development" organization that "leverages its strategic relationships to support the broader mission of education and advocacy related to the adoption and advancement of clean energy technology." "We specialize in technologies that demonstrate a clear potential for commercialization. By bringing together entrepreneurs with potential funding sources, the Clean Energy Trust acts as a catalyst to develop an innovation ecosystem in the Midwest." So, investment capital marketing - trying to find companies to make the batteries that the Energy Storage Hub develops?
      • 2 Years Ago
      I'd rather see money spent on research to inductively electrify our highways. We ahve already spent a lot of years without much to show for it re batteries. But even with our lousy battery tech, we can charge our highways so that battery range is no longer an issue.
        Rob Mahrt
        • 2 Years Ago
        Something like 20% reduction in price year over year for the last 5 years? Not much to show?
        Val
        • 2 Years Ago
        There is very little to research that would enable those highways. Just the cost of copper and raw materials needed is prohibitive. And the cost of power electronics. No research would change that.
      • 2 Years Ago
      We are one of the largest professional Battery Pack Manufacturers in India. We customize our battery packs, as per the design requirement of the customer. We deal with all major portable battery chemistries like Li-ion, Li pol, LiFePO4, NiMH, NiCD
      Giza Plateau
      • 2 Years Ago
      A Manhattan project for batteries would certainly be interesting but this could sound more like the usual politician reacharound bs of getting jobs to their state and expensive centers that never do anything. A Manhattan project is where you put the best together in barracks in the desert with unlimited means to get the job done as soon as at all possible. It is absolutely vital to combine top people with mandated urgency and I'm not sure this project has any of that.
        Rob Mahrt
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Giza Plateau
        Well, the A-bomb did have people all over the nation working on the problem, not just a few in the middle of desert but getting the best to work on the issue would be a step forward. What is different is this: Total cost of Manhattan Project $2 billion ($25.8 billion in 2012 dollars) over 6 years, or $4.3 billion a year, with 130,000 people being directly funded for the research. I would assume if we put $25.8 billion toward battery research in 6 years with 130,000 smart people working on the project we could create something a hell of a lot more valuable than a weapon that kills 100,000 people in a matter of minutes and directly and indirectly controlled and constrained U.S. policy decisions for going on 60 years now. Oh my god... this would actually do the opposite, crazy talk.
          Val
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Rob Mahrt
          well besides the bomb, the project also gave the foundations for nuclear reactors. A lot of the facilities and materials developed were later used for that. And a lot of the scientists were opposed to the government actually USING the bomb. But yeah, this 120 million will likely achieve very little to advance batteries, and even if they find something, it doesn't mean it will be suitable for mass production.
        Actionable Mango
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Giza Plateau
        I came here to say this, but you said it way better than I could. Thanks.
      Marcopolo
      • 2 Years Ago
      Any research on energy storage systems is never wasted.
        Letstakeawalk
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Marcopolo
        Agreed! Maybe they can develop a battery that gets my flashlight to last longer than a few hours.
          EZEE
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Letstakeawalk
          I got one of those freaki ' 10 million candle powered flashlights. I like lighting up the neighborhood and blinding the astronauts on the space station. Damn thing rocks.
          Marcopolo
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Letstakeawalk
          @ LTW Er,.. it's probably none of my business, but why do you want a flashlight to last so long ?
          Letstakeawalk
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Letstakeawalk
          It's for my bike. I recharge about once a week, more often now that it gets dark so early. Currently I have a 40 lumen Amp 3.0 that was a great trade-off between cost ($20), luminosity, and battery life.
          Spec
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Letstakeawalk
          "Maybe they can develop a battery that gets my flashlight to last longer than a few hours." They care called LED flashlights. Join us in the 21st century.
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