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Northwestern Joins $120 Million Battery, Energy Center

Research at Argonne-led center adds to University’s long history of energy innovation

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November 30, 2012 | by Megan Fellman

Kenneth M. Poeppelmeier

Kenneth Poeppelmeier is principal investigator for Northwestern's part in a new battery and energy center.

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Northwestern University is part of a multi-partner team led by Argonne National Laboratory that has been selected for an award of up to $120 million over five years from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to establish a new Batteries and Energy Storage Hub.

The hub, to be known as the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR), will combine the research and development firepower of five DOE national laboratories, five universities and four private firms in an effort aimed at achieving revolutionary advances in battery performance.

U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu announced the news today (Nov. 30) at a press conference held in Chicago in which U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel also participated.

The integrated research center, modeled after the Manhattan Project and Bell Labs, aims to develop and commercialize technologies that will provide five times the energy storage at one-fifth the cost in five years.

Advancing next generation battery and energy storage technologies for electric and hybrid cars and the electricity grid, as the center will do, are a critical part of President Barack Obama’s all-of-the-above energy strategy to reduce America’s reliance on foreign oil and lower energy costs for U.S. consumers.

“It is exciting to be part of this large effort to push the boundaries of battery and energy storage technologies -- areas in which Northwestern has a long history,” said Kenneth R. Poeppelmeier, the Charles E. and Emma H. Morrison Professor of Chemistry in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. He is the lead on the project for Northwestern.

“Our focus will be synthesizing new materials to take us beyond our current lithium-ion batteries,” he said. “These materials don’t exist yet, just as lithium-ion materials didn’t exist 30 years ago. The new hub is the way research should be -- coupling basic research with real-world applications and developing the materials and technology to get there. Interdisciplinary centers allow you to make important breakthroughs.”

Innovative energy and sustainability research is one of Northwestern’s 10 areas of greatest strength, as noted in the University’s strategic plan. This hub will allow researchers at Northwestern the opportunity to advance the University’s goal of discovering creative solutions to energy problems that will improve lives.

The Joint Center for Energy Storage Research joins the Argonne-Northwestern Solar Energy Research Center (ANSER), the Initiative for Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern (ISEN), the Northwestern Institute for Sustainable Practices, the Center for Catalysis and Surface Science and many other energy research efforts at Northwestern.

“I’m delighted that Northwestern will be a partner in this amazing opportunity,” said Jay Walsh, Northwestern’s vice president for research. “The University has a long history of innovations in chemistry, materials science and catalysis. The hub will allow us to deepen our impact in battery and other energy-related research. We look forward to contributing to this hub partnership.” Walsh serves on the UChicago Argonne LLC’s Board of Governors and the Argonne Science Policy Council.

“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,” said Secretary Chu, speaking of the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research.

“Based on the tremendous advances that have been made in the past few years, there are very good reasons to believe that advanced battery technologies can and will play an increasingly valuable role in strengthening America’s energy and economic security by reducing our oil dependence, upgrading our aging power grid and allowing us to take greater advantage of intermittent energy sources like wind and solar,” Chu said.

Governor Quinn is providing $5 million through his Illinois Jobs Now! capital construction plan to help build the state-of-the-art JCESR facility, which will be located on the Argonne National Laboratory campus in suburban Chicago.

Additionally, the governor has committed to working with the Illinois General Assembly to provide an additional $30 million in future capital funding for the building, which will serve as a nationwide center for energy storage research and is a key part of the governor’s plan to create jobs and grow Illinois’ economy through cutting-edge innovation.

The new hub will integrate efforts at several successful independent research programs into a larger, coordinated effort designed to push the limits on battery advances. Advancements in batteries and energy storage technology are essential for continued efforts to develop a fundamentally new energy economy with decisively reduced dependence on imported oil.

Improved storage will be vital to fully integrating intermittent renewable energy sources such as wind and solar into the electrical grid. It also will be critical to transitioning the transportation sector to more flexible grid power. 

JCESR (pronounced “J-Caesar”) will be directed by George W. Crabtree, Argonne Senior Scientist, Distinguished Fellow and Associate Division Director; Distinguished Professor of Physics, Electrical and Mechanical Engineering, University of Illinois at Chicago; and an internationally recognized leader in energy research.

“The JCESR batteries and energy storage hub gives us a new collaborative, inter-institutional R&D paradigm in which to develop the energy storage technologies that transform both the electricity grid and transportation and so reduce our dependence on foreign oil,” said Eric Isaacs, director of Argonne National Laboratory.

The hub will bring together some of the most advanced energy storage research programs in the United States today. Other national labs partnering with Argonne include Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories and SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.

In addition to Northwestern, university partners include University of Chicago, University of Illinois-Chicago, University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign and University of Michigan.

Four industrial partners also have joined to help clear a path to the marketplace for the advances developed at JCESR, including Dow Chemical Company; Applied Materials, Inc.; Johnson Controls, Inc.; and Clean Energy Trust.

Selected through an open national competition with a rigorous merit review process that relied on outside expert reviewers, JCESR is the fourth Energy Innovation Hub established by the Energy Department since 2010. Other hubs are devoted to modeling and simulation of nuclear reactors, achieving major improvements in the energy efficiency of buildings and developing fuels from sunlight. A fifth hub focused on critical materials research was announced earlier this year and is still in the application process. 

Energy Innovation Hubs are major integrated research centers with researchers from many different institutions and technical backgrounds that combine basic and applied research with engineering to accelerate scientific discovery in critical energy areas. They are modeled after the strong scientific management characteristics of the Manhattan Project, Lincoln Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that developed radar, AT&T Bell Laboratories that developed the transistor and, more recently, the highly successful Bioenergy Research Centers established during the Bush administration to pioneer advanced techniques in biotechnology, including biofuels.

Other comments about the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research:

U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin:

“This new hub brings together, under a single organizational roof, the world’s leading scientists, engineers and manufacturers in energy storage and provides them with the tools, resources and market reach necessary to produce major breakthroughs. The large-scale, innovative research and transformational new battery systems that will result from this venture will mean more effective, lower cost and longer-life energy storage technologies with real-world applications for anything that can use a rechargeable battery. The project promises to have a significant economic impact across Illinois with the help of towns and businesses who have already agreed to partner on the commercialization of promising technology developed at the hub.”

U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk:

“The research at the Energy Storage Hub has the potential to revolutionize the energy industry. From transportation to the electric grid, the hub will bring the private sector, national labs and universities together to deliver new technologies and scientific approaches needed to transform the battery and energy storage industry and spur commercial innovation. The hub at Argonne will help boost our local economy and create new jobs. Today’s announcement further establishes Illinois and Argonne as a leader in this growing industry.” 

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn:

“Illinois is the birthplace of innovations that have changed the world, including the Web browser, the cellphone and the ultrasound. As I said during my State of the State address, this innovative center will attract the best minds from across our state and country to turn cutting-edge scientific research into new companies that will create more American jobs and revolutionize our energy economy.”

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel:

“Since taking office, I have been focused on making Chicago the electric vehicle and batteries capital of the nation. 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. I will continue to work to attract more companies, create more jobs and foster more economic development in this crucial space.”

Topics: Research