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New Energy Innovation Hub a Step Towards BatteryShot

One of the recommendations of the ITIF report Shifting Gears: Transcending Conventional Economic Doctrines to Develop Better Electric Vehicle Batteries is the creation of a “BatteryShot Initiative” to “coordinate government battery RD&D efforts and establish a clear metric for success”. (This follows the initiative of a 2011 Innovation Files blog post). In late November, the Department of Energy (DOE) took a step in that direction and announced the creation of a new Batteries and Energy Storage Hub. The Hub, to be formally known as the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR), will be located on the Argonne National Laboratory campus and “will combine the R&D firepower of five DOE national laboratories, five universities, and four private firms in an effort aimed at achieving revolutionary advances in battery performance”, as noted in the press release.

JCESR (pronounced “J-Caesar”) will actually be the 4th Energy Innovation Hub, with Hubs for energy efficient buildings, fuels from sunlight, and nuclear reactor innovation, respectively, all having been established since 2010. JCESR certainly has a strong foundation in Argonne National Laboratory – researchers at the Lab were instrumental in developing the battery now found in the plug-in Chevrolet Volt. Of course, the establishment of the Hub did not come out of nowhere – initial funding was set aside in FY 2012. Furthermore, NAATBatt Executive Director Jim Greenberger observes that Argonne won the Hub award in a competitive process that included at least nine other consortia candidates.

DOE will fund the new Hub with $120 million over five years – contingent on continued annual appropriations by Congress – with the state of Illinois committing $5 million for capital construction and pledging an additional $30 million in future funding. Furthermore, as previously mentioned, the Hub will also be a truly public-private endeavor and the involvement of private entities will ensure that R&D will not be conducted for its own sake. As noted in the Talking Points Memo article:

Aside from the academic and government labs involved, the Battery Hub also includes partners from the private sector: Dow Chemical Company, Applied Materials, Inc, Johnson Controls, Inc., and Clean Energy Trust, each of which has made an agreement to support 20 percent of the cost of the specific projects they’re involved in with the Hub, or “skin in the game,” as [Hub deputy director Jeff] Chamberlain put it.

Ultimately, Chamberlain said that scientists want the center to not only produce new technologies, but new products, jobs and whole spin-off companies. The Hub even has a whole intellectual property pool designed to deal with the patented technologies that it expects to come out of its work.

To be clear, JCESR does not diminish the need for a full-fledged BatteryShot Initiative. As was pointed out in Shifting Gears, an August 2012 Government Accountability Office study identified “six programs at the DOE alone, and five at DOD, that deal with advancing electric vehicle battery technology and came to the conclusion that greater coordination is desirable.” In that vein, a theoretical BatteryShot would coordinate cross agency, cross project, and cross program battery R&D, including the now-established Hub. That being said, JCESR does at least follow the spirit of ITIF’s recommendation by bringing stakeholders together and focusing some of the National Labs’ advanced battery work. Furthermore, Talking Points Memo reports, just as ITIF envisions a BatteryShot Initiative would do, JCESR researchers have established a clear goal: “Argonne wants the Battery Hub to be able to make a battery with five times the energy storage capacity as the upper limit of current technologies, at one-fifth the cost, within five years, the so-called ‘5-5-5’ plan.”

The logical next step is a BatteryShot Initiative to coordinate government-wide efforts to spur battery technology breakthroughs and make electric vehicles both cost and performance competitive with gas cars and overcome the intermittency problems associated with utility-scale clean energy storage. In the meantime, the promising new Hub will hopefully help focus government battery R&D efforts a little more and serve as a model for innovation as the nation continues to seek to overcome myriad energy and climate challenges.

Above photo is of the Argonne National Laboratory campus. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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