New JCESR consortium aims to make U.S. a battery powerhouse

Motor Trend — In an effort to bolster battery science and manufacturing prospects in the  United States and stay on top of a global industry valued at $42 billion – and  growing about 8 percent annually – the Department of Energy is set to fund the  new Joint Center for Energy Storage Research, to the tune of up to $120 million  over the next five years.

JCESR (pronounced “J Caesar”) will be headed by Illinois’ Argonne National  Laboratory, one of the nation’s leading research and development institutes that  has also left its fingerprints all over the Chevrolet Volt’s lithium-ion battery  chemistry. JCESR’s purpose is to accelerate battery R&D for transportation  and power grid applications, which could have an enormous technological impact  on future plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles, plus their life source.  Collaborations between research entities and private companies are not uncommon,  but JCESR’s scale, parties involved, level of federal and state financial  commitment, and technical depth have the consortium being likened to the  Manhattan Project of battery tech around the news-sphere. JCESR is the DOE’s  fourth Energy Innovation Hub.

A critical JCESR feature is putting top scientists and engineers under the  same roof, remarked U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu at a press conference in  downtown Chicago. A new JCESR facility will be built on the Argonne lcampus,  with $5 million contributed from the Illinois Jobs Now! program for its  construction. Additionally, JCESR will be capable of prototyping and  manufacturing on small scales, all while communicating with potential companies  that’ll handle large-scale production (as seen fit). Being able to streamline  operations – moving from the starting lab to a manufacturing test bench – in a  single location is a huge draw. Argonne director Eric Isaacs asserts JCESR will  be looking “beyond lithium-ion” and will dive into the molecular level and  complex new materials. Other battery-related startups and companies are  predicted to flock to the Chicago region too.

The goals are aggressive. Given JCESR’s experimentation and boundary-pushing  plans, Isaacs identifies a need for battery improvements in factors of five:  5-times more power and 5-times less expensive in 5 years’ time. Chu, for a bit  of comic relief, said a factor of four would have worked but five was a better  number. Ambitious? Absolutely. And if JCESR is successful within the allotted  timeframe, the door will be open for another 5 years of DOE support.

So what does that mean for cars? It’s too early to tell, but if all goes  well, we wouldn’t expect whatever tech that springs out of JCESR to make it onto  the auto market immediately. JCESR’s presence isn’t harkening the demise of  conventionally powered vehicles. But with some of nation’s brightest minds  dedicated to advancing technology widely acknowledged as being critical to the  U.S.’s energy security and reinforcing an aging electrical infrastructure, it’s  hard to imagine the future of plug-in vehicles’ battery energy and power density  are anything but beet-red rosy. And in the face of major battery competition  stemming from Japan and South Korea, it’s promising that American brainpower and  manufacturing capacity will be forging ahead on home turf. Read more.

Posted December 3, 2012