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New Hope For The Advanced Battery Sector?

Secretary of Energy Steven Chu announced yesterday that a consortium of companies and research institutions led by Argonne National Laboratory, known as the Joint Center for Energy Storage and Research (JCESR), has been designated as the new battery and energy storage hub of the U.S. Department of Energy.  The hub designation includes an award of $120 million over the next five years to fund research, development and commercialization of advanced battery technology.  Congratulations to NAATBatt members Dow Chemical Company and Applied Materials, which are commercial partners in the hub.

In announcing the award, Secretary Chu outlined his vision for how best to develop advanced battery technology in the United States.  He recounted how early in his career, he had opportunity to work with several veterans of the Manhattan Project.  Those veterans taught him that the key to success in a large technology project is getting the greatest minds across a number of disciplines together in the same room to work on a common problem.  This is the idea behind the new battery hub.

The new battery hub includes top battery scientists from six national laboratories, five universities, three major industrial companies (including Dow and Applied Materials), a start-up incubator, and an advisory council of venture capital firms.  Although the principal focus of JCESR will be basic science, the structure of the hub will encourage new technology developed in the laboratory to filter through several technical and business disciplines and move rapidly towards commercialization.

The objective of the hub is ambitious.  Eric Isaacs, Director of Argonne National Laboratory, stated that its goal is the Objective of Fives:  increasing the energy density of batteries by five times and reducing the cost of batteries by five times within the next five years.  Secretary Chu noted that if JCESAR can achieve even 80% of that objective, batteries would hit the price point necessary to become a major, disruptive technology on the grid and in automobiles.

As impressive as is the team assembled by JCESR, many of the teams that lost out on the hub award were equally impressive.  JCESR won over at least nine other consortia, which also included top companies, universities and national laboratories.  With all the doom and gloom that has been broadcast recently about the advanced battery industry in the United States, it is stunning to realize just how many resources in this area we still have and how relatively untapped they still remain.

The past two years have been rough for many in the U.S. advanced battery sector.  Next Friday that roughness will be exemplified by the bankruptcy auction of the assets of A123 Systems. 

Two years ago I reminded readers of this column that advanced battery technology is not a race, it is a boxing match.  The early rounds have not gone well—somewhat predictably.  But now with JCESR, Secretary Chu announced that the United States is bringing out the other arm.  The next rounds may end differently.

James Greenberger's picture

Thank James for the Post!

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Jessee McBroom's picture
Jessee McBroom on Dec 4, 2012 1:46 pm GMT

I believe money spent on advanced battery design is well spent. While a company may nit succeed initially on their first attempt at a new design or business venture; there is hard won experience gained. Case in point. Another battery start up did not succeed with the magnesium ion battery as expected. A year later Toyota has come up with a working design and ptoblem solved for the implemetation of the magnesium ion battery to replace rhe extremely expensive lithium ion batteries in electric cars.

Matthew Stepp's picture
Matthew Stepp on Dec 4, 2012 3:21 pm GMT

Jim - 

Great overview. The Hub is a significant step forward and looks to build off of the good battery innovations developed since the Stimulus investments through ARPA-E, the Labs, and industry.  Getting all of these players together to collaboratively accelerate battery innovation is a great many steps in the right direction, and I think you're right, the next rounds in the next-gen battery match will look much different than the last couple.

Matthew Stepp, ITIF

James Greenberger's picture
James Greenberger on Dec 4, 2012 4:31 pm GMT

Another point that is often missed:  In technology development there is value even in complete failure.  Knowing where the blind alleys are is important if you are trying to navigate the streets.

ralpph allen's picture
ralpph allen on Dec 7, 2012 11:50 pm GMT

There are two disrutive technologies that are in the pipeline and will be on the market next year.

One is call liquid metal battery out of MIT.  This one will be used for large storage for wind and solar etc.

The other is called calbattery.   This one is an improvement on the anode technology and they claim to increase the existing batteries by 100 to 150%.  IE battery powered cars like Tesla will have 350- 400 mile range.

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