Transatlantic Models Advance Battery Revolution
Energy storage is a critical technology that has revolutionized consumer electronics, is revolutionizing transportation, and is poised to revolutionize the electric grid. However, significant reduction in cost, along with improved energy density, cycle life, charge times, and safety, are still needed to attain widespread deployment. The mission of the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR), a U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science program led by Argonne National Laboratory and founded in 2012, is to support development of next-generation batteries that greatly surpass lithium-ion batteries.
Meeting the challenge of fulfilling this ambitious mission has meant changing the formula—literally and figuratively. With respect to the former, JCESR has been experimenting with new battery materials at the bench. This has resulted in the discovery of revolutionary new materials for beyond-lithium-ion prototypes. With respect to the latter, JCESR has been charting a new paradigm for government-funded research—pulling together not only government, but also academic and industrial researchers from many disciplines in a major research project that combines discovery science, materials design, battery design, research prototyping, and manufacturing collaboration. Over the last five years, JCESR has been successful in building an organization of more than 150 researchers across 20 institutions, all working on a common strategy and steering the research as the strategy is amended. To date, no less than three startup companies have emerged from past JCESR successes.
The JCESR paradigm has also attracted attention overseas. Most importantly, the United Kingdom recently announced the formation of the Faraday Battery Institute, whose mission is to foster innovative research collaboration between UK’s leading universities and businesses to make battery technology more accessible and affordable. JCESR has a strong connection with this institute; its interim chair is Peter Littlewood, director emeritus of Argonne. Discussions between the institute and JCESR are in progress to explore synergistic opportunities and to increase cooperation on topics of next-generation energy storage research, as well as explore opportunities for joint funding.
These discussions began in earnest when JCESR Director George Crabtree completed a Royal Academy of Engineering Distinguished Visiting Fellowship at the University of Oxford, one of the seven founding partner universities of the institute, in spring 2017. Crabtree is also helping organize the Li-SM3 Conference with the Imperial College London and OXIS Energy, to be held April 25-26, 2018, in Chicago. The focus of this conference is to identify the priority areas of research on lithium-sulfur battery chemistry.
Energy storage’s ever changing formulas, both chemical and collaborative, ensure that the revolution in batteries will continue. As new partners join the quest for understanding potential battery materials and their performance limits, we can all look forward to exceeding our expectations for cost and performance of tomorrow’s batteries for transportation, grid storage, and more.