Northwestern to join Argonne-led team to advance battery, energy storage

Paulina Firozi, Campus Editor

Northwestern is one of five universities selected to join an Argonne National Laboratory-led team that will be awarded up to $120 million over five years to advance research and energy technology.

The Department of Energy hopes the team consisting of five national laboratories, five universities and four private firms will combine efforts to create a new center for energy storage research — a Batteries and Energy Storage Hub. The Hub will be called the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research and will provide advances in technology to power electric and hybrid cars.

Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, University of Chicago President Robert Zimmer and Argonne director Eric Isaacs announced the initiative at a news conference Friday.

“Since taking office, I have been focused on making Chicago the electric vehicle and batteries capital of the nation,” Emanuel said, according to a news release. “This includes creating incentives to encourage the adoption of electric vehicles, attracting companies to manufacture electric vehicles, and now, working with Argonne to make sure that Chicago is at the epicenter of research on this subject. All of these pieces fit together into a comprehensive strategy that will allow Chicago to lead in this industry, from conception to construction to implementation.”

The research center is modeled after the Manhattan Project and Bell Labs. It aims to reduce reliance on foreign oil and reduce energy costs for U.S. consumers through greater battery performance, a longtime goal of President Barack Obama.

Research at the center will also aim to reduce those energy costs by one-fifth, by creating five times the energy storage in the next five years.

“This is a partnership between world leading scientists and world leading companies, committed to ensuring that the advanced battery technologies the world needs will be invented and built right here in America,” Chu said at the conference, according to the release.

A Morrison professor of chemistry, Weinberg’s Kenneth Peoppelmeier is the lead on the project for Northwestern, according to the University release. He said NU has had a history of research advances in battery and energy storage and will use this opportunity to create breakthroughs in technology with materials that do not currently exist, “just as lithium-ion materials didn’t exist 30 years ago.”

Some of NU’s own research has been committed to energy efficiency and greater battery performance for years. In October 2011, NU professor of chemical and biological engineering Harold Kung published research based on the creation of an electrode for lithium-ion batteries that would allow a 10 times greater charge and 10 times faster compared to current technology. The research aimed to advance technology for use in cell phone and iPods but also for electric vehicles.

Kung told The Daily in November that he began his research five years ago with federal funding. As a way to create an efficient use of natural resources, he wanted to reduce carbon emissions from vehicles and give the public a greater reason to want to replace their cars with electric ones.

“I looked into why people don’t like to buy electric cars, which is because of the battery life,” Kung said. “So looking into that, we said ‘What can we do about it?’ Improve energy density and power delivery.”

Joining NU in establishing the research center are the University of Chicago, University of Illinois-Chicago, University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign and University of Michigan.

— Paulina Firozi