The Department of Energy has announced a major new initiative designed to rocket the U.S. EV battery industry into global leadership, vastly improving the prospects for average car buyers to wrap their hands around the steering wheels of affordable, long-range EVs some time in the not too distant future. The $120 million, five-year program is called JCESR for Joint Center for Energy Storage Research. It combines the high-tech research “firepower” of fourteen national laboratories, universities, and private companies with no less of a mission than to revolutionize EV battery performance.
Energy Independence Means Battery Independence
JCESR builds on an 2010 Obama Administration energy storage initiative aimed at supporting a “web” of EV battery manufacturers in the former U.S. Rust Belt, anchored by cities like Holland, Michigan.
Part of the Recovery Act, the battery initiative had two goals. First and foremost was to kickstart job creation in a region reeling from the 2008 financial crisis and long-term economic malaise.
Second, the aim was to build a foundation for long-term sustainability in the domestic vehicle manufacturing sector. As of 2010, the U.S. was providing just 2% of the global automotive battery market. Without a boost for domestic battery manufacturing, future growth in the emerging U.S. EV sector could be hobbled by dependence on overseas battery suppliers.
A Big Boost for EV Battery Research
Spearheaded by Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago, the JCESR team will be headquartered in a new facility at the lab’s campus, built with the help of $5 million from the state Illinois Jobs Now! construction fund.
As the nation’s Energy Storage and Research Hub, JCESR will coordinate existing research projects as well as launching new ones.
It’s also possible that JCESR could hook up with research projects at the new Ground Systems Power and Energy Laboratory at TARDEC, the Army’s tank and vehicle research center in Michigan.
Along with EV battery development, research on grid-integrated energy storage is another essential part of the JCESR mission, leading to the introduction of more wind and solar energy into the nation’s mainstream energy supply.
Another interesting trend that could develop out of JCESR is the use of active and spent EV batteries as multi-purpose energy storage devices.
Ford has already launched a pilot project using spent EV batteries in conjunction with a 500kW solar installation at its Michigan Assembly Plant, the Department of Defense is looking into integrating EV batteries into demonstration microgrid projects, and several EV owners reportedly hacked their vehicle batteries to power their homes after Hurricane Sandy took millions of people off the grid last month.
We Built This!
Not to belabor a point from the last election, but what the heck, it’s worth belaboring. The new partnership is yet another demonstration of a core technology that has been developed with a heavy dose of public funding.
Aside from Argonne, the list of JCESR partners includes Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories, the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, Northwestern University, University of Chicago, University of Illinois-Chicago, University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign, and University of Michigan.
The four industrial partners are Dow Chemical Company; Applied Materials, Inc.; Johnson Controls, Inc.; and Clean Energy Trust.
That’s just the battery and energy storage hub, by the way. This is the fourth such public-private energy innovation hub supported by the Obama Administration. The other three deal with nuclear reactors, energy efficient buildings, and photosynthetic fuels. A fifth proposed hub will deal with critical materials research.
And don’t even get us started on the President’s public-private Advanced Manufacturing Initiative….
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Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.