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Chicago’s Argonne Lab Developing Battery of the Future

Chicago’s Argonne Lab Developing Battery of the Future
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In 2012, the Department of Energy’s Office of Science awarded a $120 million grant to a new technology center focused on battery development - headquartered at Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago, Illinois. The Joint Center for Energy Storage Research brings together scientists and engineers from government, national laboratories, and industry to provide them with the tools, funding, and space to make the next technological breakthrough in energy storage.

Smaller. Lighter. Longer Lasting. That's what consumers want in the batteries they use to power personal electronics.

At the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research, or J-CESR, researchers hope to meet the demand.

This is the birthplace of the lithium ion battery technology, but J-CESR scientists and engineers have bigger - and smaller - goals in mind.

“Five times the energy density at one fifth the cost.” And all this is five years, accrdoing to deputy director Jeffrey Chamberlain. Cell phones, he says, are the devices where consumers will first notice a change.

“So instead of charging it every day, they might be able to charge it every few days or every week. Or instead of having certain power and capability, they might be able to get to a kind of power that might be unimagined,” says he.

Chamberlain says the ultimate goal is to change the worldwide automotive market.

“The bigger mission we are on is trying to store energy in a way that is cost-effective and safe so that we can compete directly with the internal combustion engine using electricity or electric transport,” says Chamberlain.

Argonne’s Energy Systems Division Director Don Hillebrand says more power for personal electronics is an easy sell - but consumers demand change when it comes to cars.

“Some consumers want an all-electric vehicle. The big debate right now is how many of them are there? That number changes based on how much gasoline costs. Really at what point does gasoline get expensive enough that it drives more people into wanting all-electrics?” – asks Hillebrand.

Hillebrand says the sales figures this year - about ten thousand electric vehicles sold per month in the United States - is below industry expectations, but the battery the center is developing could change the picture.

“It’s showing steady growth as we go forward. That number needs to be ten times bigger for us to really say that this program has been a success, and getting to that ten times is really tied to getting the battery to what we need it to be,” says Hillebrand.

But if that battery development is successful, and sales of electric powered vehicles take off, there will be increased demand on the existing power grid to recharge those batteries - a problem the scientists and researchers at J-CESR are also tackling by developing a large scale battery for the grid.

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    Kane Farabaugh

    Kane Farabaugh is the Midwest Correspondent for Voice of America, where since 2008 he has established Voice of America's presence in the heartland of America.