Lab Making Progress on Advanced Battery Storage for Cars, Grid, House Panel Told

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By Rebecca Kern

June 17 — One of the Energy Department's four innovation hubs is making progress on advanced energy battery storage in cars and the electricity grid and is working with companies to move battery prototypes to market.

During a June 17 House Science, Space and Technology subcommittee hearing, George Crabtree, director of the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR), said the center also is looking at new battery technology, moving beyond the lithium ion technology that has been around for more than 25 years.

“JCESR is looking exclusively beyond lithium ion,” Crabtree said during the hearing of the Energy Subcommittee.

Lithium ion battery technology can get “incrementally better,” but “we're looking for a transformative change, not an incremental change,” he added.

Subcommittee members discussed the status of the Energy Department's four energy innovation hubs and how close the hubs are to reaching their targeted research goals.

Lawmakers expressed interest in the outcome of the JCESR innovation hub at the Argonne National Laboratory, established in 2012. The goal of JCESR is to develop, by 2017, two prototypes of batteries—one for electric vehicles and one for the electricity grid—which can be scaled to manufacturing and can provide five times the energy and one-fifth the cost of commercial batteries.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) praised the program, saying of the JCESR, “You're doing what we expected our hubs to be doing.”

Similarly, Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) said, “Battery technology is critical for a real clean and affordable energy future.”

Working With Industry 

Crabtree said JCESR is working with companies to get their battery prototypes on the market. He said they're specifically working with Johnson Controls Inc., a large battery manufacturer, to design a prototype battery that they would then be interested in manufacturing.

“I think JCESR is unique in that it applies both the basic science discoveries and the guidance from industry, for example Johnson Controls Inc., on what it would take for it to actually be manufactured,” Crabtree said. “Their guidance is very, very important.”

JCESR also works with a group of 80 affiliates, including start-up firms, large companies and research organizations, to discover what kinds of batteries they're interested in.

“I think it's this connection to the marketplace that is one of the unique things about JCESR that was missing before,” he said. “It makes us familiar with what their needs are so we can address them better. And it makes them familiar with what we can do so they can address a challenge to us that we can respond to.”

Seeking Authorization for Hubs 

The energy innovation hubs include JCESR, the Consortium for Advanced Simulation of Light Water Reactors (CASL), the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis and the Critical Materials Institute.

These four hubs are being funded through appropriations to the Energy Department and have received about $500 million in funding since 2010.

Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.), the subcommittee's ranking member, said his legislation to authorize the hubs by statute to ensure consistent appropriations funding has been included as an amendment in the America Competes Reauthorization Act of 2015 (H.R. 1806). The bill passed the House in April and is under consideration at the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

The Consortium for Advanced Simulation of Light Water Reactors faced criticism from Rohrabacher, who expressed concerns about the safety of light water reactors.

Jess Gehin, director of CASL, said the hub's focus is to improve the safety of the existing fleet of 99 light water reactors in the U.S.

Calls Spending Wasteful 

Rohrabacher said, however, “Focusing our limited research dollars on light water reactors is a terrible waste and misuse of limited dollars that we have here. At the very least we should be focusing on those very promising technologies that we have not invested in yet, rather than trying to perfect something that we've basically been researching for 40 or 50 years.”

“I'm dismayed about this, and I've been talking to the Department of Energy about this for a number of years.” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Rebecca Kern in Washington at rkern@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com