Next-Gen Energy Storage On The Way For Cheaper, Better EVs: Thanks, Trump!

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Energy Secretary Rick Perry has been steadily pushing the Trump Administration deeper into clean tech territory, regardless of President* Trump’s pro-coal rhetoric. In the latest development, the Energy Department’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory announced a new round of $5.7 million in funding for next-generation energy storage technology, aimed squarely at driving down the cost of electric vehicles and pumping up the range, to boot.

Perry is also steadily getting more frantic in his efforts to satisfy the inclinations of President Trump and the conservative base, but that’s a whole ‘nother can of worms.


$5.7 Million For Next Generation Energy Storage

The new energy storage funding round comes under the Battery500 consortium, which is spearheaded by PNNL with a focus on improving lithium-metal batteries.

Battery500 was established under the Obama Administration in 2016. Back then, clean tech rated lavish attention from the Commander-in-Chief. Rather than leaving it up to the Energy Department, the White House took up the task of defining the Battery500 mission:

…The Battery500 Consortium aims to triple the specific energy (to 500 WH/kg) relative to today’s battery technology while achieving 1,000 electric vehicles cycles. This will result in a significantly smaller, lighter weight, less expensive battery pack (below $100/kWh) and more affordable EVs…

The $5.7 million in funding will go to 15 projects that fall into the seedling category, defined by PNNL as “new, potentially risky battery technologies that could pay off big and grow into significant energy storage solutions.”

Battery500 seems to have taken recent improvements in battery technology under consideration when setting a goal for the 15 projects. The current goal is to double, not triple specific energy:

Battery500 seeks to develop lithium-metal batteries that have more than double the specific energy found in batteries that power today’s electric cars. Specific energy measures the amount of energy packed into a battery based on its weight.

Meh, double, triple. It depends on where you set the level of specific energy typical of “today’s” EV batteries. PNNL currently puts that around the 170-200 watt mark.

Either way, the end result will be a new generation of EVs that could outrun gasmobiles on two key metrics, cost and range.

Go, Army!

Along with our sister site, CleanTechnica has spilled a lot of ink on the connection between clean tech and national defense, including operations overseas in combat areas. The new round of funding is another example.

PNNL points out that the Department of the Army is chipping in $1 million of the total, under the Advanced Vehicle Power Technology Alliance.

The Alliance is tasked with addressing the “critical ground vehicle challenges across the vehicle spectrum from lightweight platforms through super-heavy systems in efficient power and energy systems,” energy storage being one of those challenges.

15 Seedling Projects To Raise Mighty Energy Storage Oaks

The $5.7 million is spread fairly evenly among the 15 energy storage projects, and the race is on to see which ones show the most promise.

This is just the first round of development. After 18 months the Energy Department will assess the progress of each awardee, and select a chosen few for additional funding.

You can get the full list of 15 battery projects from the Energy Department website. For those of you on the go, one representative example is a project under the wing of the University of Maryland: College Park.

University of Maryland will focus on new electrolytes that help inhibit the formation of dendrites in lithium-metal batteries.

Lithium-metal is the next step up from lithium-ion batteries in terms of range and efficiency, but the dendrite issue has been a stumbling block. These branching, tree-like forms of lithium grow in lithium-metal batteries when the lithium-carrying electrolyte reacts with the lithium anode. That  reduces efficiency and pretty much renders the whole thing useless.

PNNL is already hot on the trail of a high efficiency new electrolyte additive that inhibits dendrite formation, and it looks like the University of Maryland award is intended to complement that research.

According to PNNL its new electrolyte is so efficient that the end result could be an anode-free battery. Here’s an explainer from the lab:

…Active materials have been needed to coat the electrodes because, so far, most electrolytes have been inefficient and continue to consume lithium ions during battery operation. But an electrolyte with more than 99 percent efficiency means there’s potential to create a battery that only has a negative current collector, without an active material coating, on the anode side.

Here’s the happy recap from PNNL physicist Ji-Guang “Jason” Zhang:

“Not needing an anode could lower the cost and size of rechargeable batteries and would also significantly improve the safety of these batteries.”

To be clear, properly designed lithium-ion rechargeable batteries have a solid safety track record, because they include systems that prevent overheating. The rub is that those systems add expense, complexity and weight. A new battery that eliminates the need for all that extra hardware can be cheaper and more efficient.

What’s Eating Rick Perry?

As for Energy Secretary Perry, the upside is that he’s no Scott Pruitt when it comes to shepherding his agency’s mandates. He even managed to troll Trump during the so-named “Made in America” week last month, when he pumped out reams of publicity for the US wind industry.

Interestingly, while Pruitt has dropped the environmental ball, Perry seems to be picking up some of the pieces.

Just this weekend for example, the Energy Department’s main @ENERGY Twitter account tweeted a link to a June 28 long form article from its Office of Science, which details how the agency’s nuclear mission fostered significant developments ecosystems research.

@ENERGY also tweeted a shout-out to Democratic President Jimmy Carter for signing the Department of Energy Organization Act 40 years ago, which established the Department of Energy and affirmed the connection between environment and energy. That connection is symbolized in the agency’s rather complicated seal (which includes symbols for oil, atoms, sun and wind but nothing for coal, btw):

By invoking this symbolism the color scheme represents the Nation’s commitment to meet its energy needs in a manner consistent with the preservation of the natural environment.

There’s much more tweeting from Energy Department’s main account, and from its offices and national laboratories, so check it out and drop a note in the comment thread with your thoughts.

Now for the downside: Perry’s affection for clean tech clearly does not cross over into other issues.  As Texas governor, his socially conservative policies on women’s health have had a devastating effect, and as Energy Secretary he has continued to throw red meat to the conservative base.

Over the past few months he has gone out of his way to support Trump on climate change as well as other issues that stray far afield from the Energy Department mission (health care and transgender rights, for those of you keeping score at home).

It’s all part of a winning formula that helped Perry rack up points for the longest-serving Governor in Texas history. He lost the formula when he ran for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination with a soft record on immigration under his belt, but it looks like he’s determined not to make the same mistake twice.

We’re guessing another run at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is in store for Rick Perry, how about you?

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Image: lithium dendrite formation via PNNL.

*As of this writing.

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

Tina Casey has 3143 posts and counting. See all posts by Tina Casey