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Sneaky: Energy Department Pushes Electric Vehicles Under Trump’s Nose

The Energy Department is pursuing a mobility future populated by electric vehicles, despite the recently impeached President’s support for fossil fuel.

If anybody was wondering where the US Department of Energy would be heading with a former auto industry lobbyist in the driver’s seat, wonder no more. Recently minted Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette kickstarted his first full year in office with a ringing endorsement of new energy storage R&D. In the latest development, DOE has dropped $133 million on a new round of funding for advanced vehicle technology, with the largest piece of the pie going to EVs, EV batteries, EV charging, and other projects that promote the use of EVs.

More Big Bucks For The Electric Vehicle Revolution

electric vehicles energy storage

The US Department of Energy continues to fund new research aimed at driving down the cost of batteries for electric vehicles (screenshot via US DOE).

The Energy Department’s continued focus on electric vehicles is all the more interesting in the context of a renewed push by the Trump* administration to roll back fuel efficiency and air quality standards for the auto industry.

In fact, the $133 million is actually part of a larger funding plan of almost $300 million, announced under the title “Sustainable Transportation Research.”

The overall aim is to bring “affordable, clean, efficient, and domestic energy options” to the American people that provide “families and businesses greater choice in how they meet their mobility needs.”

If that sounds like there’s not much wiggle room for fossil-fueled engines, there isn’t.

Aside from the $133 million for advanced vehicle research, the plan includes $100 million for biofuel R&D, and another $64 million to scale up hydrogen fuel (the usual caveat applies to hydrogen: fossil natural gas is currently the primary source for hydrogen, but commercial viability is within sight for renewable hydrogen, and markets for renewable hydrogen are emerging).

Electric Vehicles: Follow The Money

Although the $133 million piece of the plan covers all “advanced” technologies, electric vehicles get the lion’s share.

The package includes a $40 million Batteries and Electrification category for projects improving lithium-ion batteries with silicon-based anodes, as well as developing electric drive systems that eliminate rare earth metals, and utility-managed systems for managing the grid load when vast numbers of electric vehicles all charge up at once.

An additional $36 million slice of the pie takes aim at community partnerships for EV charging and other systematic approaches to using alternative fuel vehicles in communities and fleets.

By “alternative,” DOE also means gaseous fuels, which includes natural gas and biogas as well as hydrogen. Considering the new funding aimed at biogas and hydrogen, it will be interesting to see how much of that $36 million goes to natural gas projects.

Completing the picture is a $13.5 million chunk dedicated to projects that improve the affordability, connectivity, usage, and energy efficiency of transit systems, with the remaining $1.2 million going to an analysis of transportation and energy.

More And Better (And Cheaper) Electric Vehicle Batteries

The energy storage angle is perhaps the most interesting part of the whole plan. In the funding description, the Energy Department’s Vehicle Technologies Office takes credit for dropping the cost of advanced electric vehicle batteries by 75% since 2008.

“Nearly every plug-in electric vehicle on the road today uses VTO-developed battery technology,” the office explains, and it is clearly not about resting on its laurels.

For the new round of funding, VTO tells grant applicants that it “seeks new battery chemistries and cell technologies to reduce costs even further, by more than half, to less than $100/kWh, while increasing driving range to 300 miles and decreasing charge time to less than 15 minutes by 2028.”

DOE has been pursuing a wide range of energy storage technologies, but silicon-based technology made it into the agency’s roadmap for EV batteries in 2017, and it looks like lithium-ion with silicon anodes is the winning combo for the next generation of electric vehicles, at least for now.

The silicon angle may sound a bit shaky, but energy storage researchers are finding ways to work around the shortcomings of silicon and achieve a substantial increase in energy density over Li-ion batteries with conventional graphite anodes.

Rice University has just announced a new breakthrough in silicon-based battery technology, and the US energy storage company Enevate is already pitching a silicon-based electric vehicle battery with a charging time as fast as fueling a gasmobile.

Adding to the electric vehicle battery picture is the role of drivetrain efficiency. In that area, VTO is looking to double the usable life with printable magnets and other next-generation technology.

CleanTechnica is reaching out to Rice for more details about their research, so stay tuned for more on that.

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Image (screenshot) via US DOE, Electrochemical Energy Storage Technical Team Roadmap

 
 
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Tina 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. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

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