Chu and Isaacs were energized about Argonne's new research hub. (Photography by Robert Kozloff)

Battery life

A $120 million award fuels a new Argonne institute to advance energy-storage technology.

Announcing the new Joint Center for Energy Storage Research, Argonne National Laboratory director Eric Isaacs outlined its goal: to develop batteries that are five times more powerful and five times cheaper within five years. “Factors of five are what we need to transform both the power grid and transportation,” Isaacs said at a November 30 event.

The institute received a five-year, $120 million award from the US Department of Energy to create a battery and energy storage hub. It will be a partnership between five national laboratories, four universities (including the University of Chicago), and four private companies. Under the direction of Argonne senior scientist and University of Illinois at Chicago physicist George W. Crabtree, researchers will focus on the next generation of energy-storage technology for electric and hybrid cars, smartphones, and the electricity grid.

Construction will begin in 2013 for the center’s facility at the Argonne campus in suburban Chicago. Illinois governor Pat Quinn pledged $5 million through his Illinois Jobs Now! capital construction plan. Quinn also vowed to work with the General Assembly to provide $30 million in future capital funding for the building, which will serve as a nationwide focal point for energy storage research.

Calling the institute’s partners a “dream team,” Isaacs said that 120 researchers from around the country would regularly conduct research at the institute with the goal of developing new technologies to be licensed and brought to market. The purpose is to keep the United States at the forefront of rechargeable-battery technology, a $42 billion-per-year industry with revenues expected to double in the next five years. “Very, very important that research be intimately linked with manufacturing in a way that will actually propel the United States forward,” energy secretary Steven Chu said. “This is what the whole concept is about.”

Argonne’s center is the fourth Energy Innovation Hub that the Department of Energy has established since 2010—a sort of Manhattan Project for energy technology. The other hubs focus on the modeling and simulation of nuclear reactors, creating more energy-efficient buildings, and developing fuels from sunlight.

“Now,” Chu said, cutting the rhetorical ribbon at Argonne, “the hard work begins.”