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DOE Wants 5X Improvement In Batteries In 5 Years 305

Posted by Soulskill
from the charging-scientists-with-this-task dept.
dcblogs writes "The U.S. Dept. of Energy has set a goal to develop battery and energy storage technologies that are five times more powerful and five times cheaper within five years. DOE is creating a new center at Argonne National Laboratory, at a cost of $120 million over five years, that's intended to reproduce development environments that were successfully used by Bell Laboratories and World War II's Manhattan Project. 'When you had to deliver the goods very, very quickly, you needed to put the best scientists next to the best engineers across disciplines to get very focused,' said U.S. Energy Secretary Stephen Chu, on Friday. The Joint Center for Energy Storage Research isn't designed to seek incremental improvements in existing technologies. This technology hub, according to DOE's solicitation (PDF), 'should foster new energy storage designs that begin with a "clean sheet of paper" — overcoming current manufacturing limitations through innovation to reduce complexity and cost.' Other research labs, universities and private companies are participating in the effort."
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DOE Wants 5X Improvement In Batteries In 5 Years

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  • Chu! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mrbluejello (189775) on Friday November 30, 2012 @06:56PM (#42149223)

    It's so refreshing having a Secretary of Energy that actually knows something about energy and physics, rather than somebody who just knows how to dig carbon out of the ground.

  • So...? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by GeneralEmergency (240687) on Friday November 30, 2012 @07:10PM (#42149435) Journal

    . ...I want a pony. Betcha I get my wish first.

    To think that there is not a HUGE amount of academic and commercial research in this area already is absurd. The previous 5 years has produced results that directly made a 10 hour iPad possible. If you want to spend tax dollars on this, make it an X-Prize like contest.

    This plan, as laid out, smells like "Workfare for Scientists".

    .

  • Enough $? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by markdavis (642305) on Friday November 30, 2012 @07:17PM (#42149525)

    $120 million really doesn't sound like enough money to me to solve a problem that has been the bane of thousands of electronics companies for many decades....

    Still, this is a VERY worthy cause. Batteries have improved a lot over the years, but not nearly fast enough to keep up with what we need. Especially important as we move ever closer to electric cars (I would just LOVE to have one).

    And it isn't just the capacity and price that is important- safety and component scarcity and disposal concerns should be addressed too.

  • Re:Chu! (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 30, 2012 @07:24PM (#42149613)

    Want in one hand and crap in the other, then you can tell me in 5 years which got full first. The secret isn't finding in higher energy density battery technology but in finding one that you are willing (liability wise) to release to Joe and Jane Public.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 30, 2012 @07:29PM (#42149671)

    Perhaps the DOE knows we're going to run out of cheap hydrocarbon fuel faster than we can manage. 5x improvement in current battery storage density (per weight) will make affordable and practical electric vehicles pretty much pop up over night.

    We can improve electric infrastructure. Petrol fuel transportation and distribution is actually pretty expensive and energy consuming we just take it for granted because it's already here and we've been doing it for a long time. Did you know the cost of actually shipping and moving fuel is one of the biggest factors in it's price? Fuel prices are high because refineries are on coast lines and those endless millions of galons have to be trucked everywhere. It's also one of the biggest lies of omission when petrol fuel proponents talk about pollution. They conveniently ignore the total energy cost/emission cost of the fuel distribution infrastructure itself.

    Yeah, you'd still have to generate the energy. Even if you burn things to make it think about this: What's more efficient? A few large plant-sized generators or millions of little generators you have to carry around in cars? Also, is it easier to sequester and capture emissions in a few large fixed locations, or millions of tiny moving ones?

    Electric is the way to go. The only missing link is good batteries. Once they come, we can build power lines and power plants we're good at that. Personally, I can't wait until the gas station is a thing of the past. A story to tell your children when they see an old TV show or something.

    Libertarian badmouthing aside this is what we're supposed to do with public funds. Research that benefits everyone. (Really, don't you guys have jobs during the day? How's that bootstrap factory coming along? The big bad govt still on a conspiracy to keep you from building it?)

  • by RobertLTux (260313) <robert AT laurencemartin DOT org> on Friday November 30, 2012 @07:37PM (#42149731)

    Okay so you create a battery that can be made cheaply and outputs X amount of Volts and Y amount of Amperage per gram of weight.

    1 what does the discharge curve look like?? (how quick does it drop voltage/amperage)
    2 exactly how toxic is the stuff inside?
    3 what happens if it gets shorted??
    4 how easy is it to recharge SAFELY??
    5 what about heat??

    it does no good to create a ZPM if dropping it causes an explosion in the C4 range or having a battery that has a sloped power curve (so that half power = half voltage).

  • Re:Chu! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 30, 2012 @07:38PM (#42149751)

    Right. 5 years to develop 5X cheaper and 5X more energy dense? How gullible are you?

    The free market doesn't solve all problems, but any company that could deliver this would make hundreds of billions of dollars. Why aren't they doing it? Because nobody knows how!

    This $120 million is good research, but it isn't going to deliver. Dr. Chu will certainly be glad that the deadline is past the time that he will be out of office.

  • by roc97007 (608802) on Friday November 30, 2012 @07:41PM (#42149797) Journal

    Funny story... coming back from a photo assignment, I discovered while on the freeway why you do not put fully charged high current rechargeable batteries in the same pocket as a handfull of change. (sniff ... "What's that... OH MY GOD." And then try to pull off the road safely while your pants are literally on fire.)

    Well, I can see the humor *now*. It wasn't funny at the time.

    But seriously, a lot of current systems (your car's gas tank, for instance) have a significant amount of stored up energy. The companies that don't put adequate safeguards in place will pay out in the courts and perhaps go out of business. I don't see this as a valid concern. The pants on fire thing, that was me being an idiot. I got a good lesson out of the experience. And a small scar.

  • by troutman (26963) on Friday November 30, 2012 @08:15PM (#42150187) Homepage

    Argonne has been a center for battery research and testing going back to 1976 . They have teams of materials scientists, chemists and physicists who have been working on various aspects of improving battery systems for many years, with a lot of published researched and patents. They also has one of the top 5 supercomputers in the world on-site, an entire center devoted to nanotechnology research, the biggest x-ray source around (for materials property research), and all sorts of other resources that make this more than "just another place" to do this work.

    This grant is all about combining and focusing the efforts of all sorts of other public institutions and private manufacturers, with leadership from what is truly a "critical mass" of smart folks who work at the Argonne campus.

    It is not likely to be any one "magic bullet" but lots of little improvements in each aspect of battery technology, gaining a percent or two here, a few more percent there, that when combined together will result in impressive gains. You know, like... science.

  • by hey! (33014) on Friday November 30, 2012 @08:18PM (#42150215) Homepage Journal

    True, demanding something doesn't guarantee you get it. On the other hand, *not* demanding something *does* guarantee you won't get it.

    If nobody in the government demanded a satellite based navigation system, there wouldn't be GPS. If nobody in the government demanded a robust, survivable way of transporting data packets between heterogeneous networks, there wouldn't be the Internet. If nobody in the government demanded a way of automating a wide variety of computations, the computer as we know it wouldn't exist. Same goes for the polio vaccine -- if you don't think that's a big deal ask someone brought up before the Salk vaccine was introduced.

    Unlike the iPad or the filtered cigarette, these things were not going to be invented by the private sector (at least not soon) because once you discounted the probable profits by risk, uncertainty and delay, they weren't attractive private investments. On the other hand, the immense public need for these things justified the government investment in removing the initial uncertainties. Once the risky and uncertain parts of the problem are solved, then private investment is clearly a more efficient vehicle for making marginal improvements, which add up quickly. Kind of like shifting responsibility for low Earth orbit launches to private companies.

  • Re:Pocket change (Score:5, Insightful)

    by skids (119237) on Friday November 30, 2012 @08:34PM (#42150397) Homepage

    Industry only pours money into research they think they will help their own company exclusively and/or which they can turn around into a profit in under X business quarters.

    These national labs do the basic research that industry fails to fund.

  • Re:Chu! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by icebike (68054) * on Friday November 30, 2012 @08:38PM (#42150453)

    Batteries are green, because they get rid of lots of tiny pollution sources (and demand shifting). The political motivation behind this is probably make work for a national laboratory. Since the end of the cold war, they've been desperately trying to find something to do beyond new ways to kill people.

    Not all Batteries are green when you consider the total life cycle.

    But given that a rechargeable battery allows energy portability, which is worth a great deal, they may be greener than schemes that
    rely on continuous.

    But what is missing with this 5 in 5 plan is practicality.

    The best minds in the world have been laboring on this for years, and progress is pretty slow. Results are proprietary, patented, secret.
    If Chou things he can pry these secrets out of the hands of the corporate overlords, or he things he can field any new tech that won't be
    instantly assaulted by patent lawyers and trolls he is crazy.

    Anything developed here will, to the extent it sees the light of day, not be marketed without huge patent encumbrances tacked on by
    dodgy players who will take any research discoveries, and plaster them with patents, and sue any others that try the same thing.
    (Rambus ring any bells?) Unless the Government is going into the battery business,

    DARPA's success isn't likely to be replicated in the world of patent trolls.

  • by icebike (68054) * on Friday November 30, 2012 @08:43PM (#42150505)

    We need portable energy, and molten anything is not an answer.

    Its easy to give a Ted Talk, its a lot harder to offer up a practical idea. (Just look at how many TED talks are nothing but TED Talks).

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 30, 2012 @08:51PM (#42150605)

    you know you're in a communist shithole. What the fuck is it the US governments business what kind of batteries we have???!!!

  • Re:Chu! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Belial6 (794905) on Friday November 30, 2012 @09:01PM (#42150711)
    That depends on how energy plays out. If the oil doom sayers are correct, then there would be enough political pressure to adjust patent law to free up the tech. It might seem impossible that this could happen, but even 6 years ago, ObamaCare would have seemed just as impossible.

    Even if fossil fuel prices don't spike, as global warming gains more and more acceptance, there is more and more political capital in anything that moves us off of oil.
  • Re:Chu! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by BasilBrush (643681) on Friday November 30, 2012 @10:18PM (#42151311)

    Right. 5 years to develop 5X cheaper and 5X more energy dense? How gullible are you?

    AC in 1962: "Right. 10 years to develop develop a rocket ship to land a man on the moon and return him? How gullible are you?"

  • Re:Chu! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by BasilBrush (643681) on Friday November 30, 2012 @10:27PM (#42151393)

    All that's needed is something as energy dense as gasoline. And whilst that can and occasionally does release it's energy all at once in a catastrophic way, it's been more than worth it up to now.

    A battery as energy dense as gasoline probably won't be any more dangerous than gasoline. And may very well be less so.

  • Re:Fail (Score:3, Insightful)

    by BasilBrush (643681) on Friday November 30, 2012 @10:40PM (#42151483)

    Many companies have spent more than $120M and not achieved a doubling in capacity.

    If the private sector has failed, that's a good reason to do public sector research.

    Public sector money gave us the internet. Private sector gave us AOL and MSN. Whatever happened to those?

    Public sector gave us a man on the moon. Now 40 years later, it's seen as an achievement for a private company to get into space.

    The public sector is far better at the big multi-year stuff than the private sector.

  • Re:So...? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by BasilBrush (643681) on Friday November 30, 2012 @10:44PM (#42151509)

    This plan, as laid out, smells like "Workfare for Scientists".

    Public money spent on having scientists do science is money well spent.

  • Re:Chu! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Rei (128717) on Friday November 30, 2012 @11:40PM (#42151857) Homepage

    What's so ridiculous about this? There's dozens of potential battery chemistries which could do this - sodium ion, lithium air, nickel lithium, lithium sulfur, and on and on. The payoff for all fields could be incredible. Why not have an organized program to work on it? High cost, high risk, high reward - the kind of basic research that's perfect for government programs (leaving the incremental tweaking, production optimization, marketing, etc to private industry).

    To give an example let's pick one field - transportation. What does "5x energy density and 1/5th the price" mean for transportation?

    Current energy densities generally provide EV ranges between 100 and 250 miles. 5x - 500 to 1250 miles driving per charge. Which means a single charge provides a full day of charging. Which means that it doesn't matter how fast you can charge, so long as you can get a full charge when you sleep.

    Let's go with 800 miles range. Which would be extended if you plugged in during meals and/or breaks. A car with prius-level streamlining will use about 250 watt hours per mile on the highway. That's a 125kWh pack. With 80% net wall-to-wheel efficiency, you need to provide about 156kWh. Over 8 hours, that's 20kW, or about 80A. Most new homes have in the ballpark of 200A boxes and worst case, you upgrade.

    In short, these kind of batteries would entirely eliminate the main two complaint about EVs: range and charge time.

    What about price? Li-ions are roughly $200 per kWh nowadays, which would make that pack. That's $25k just for your pack's cells - pretty darned pricey! Now, contrary to popular myth, these packs are generally rated for a decade or so to get down to 80% capacity, and the bigger your pack, the less you stress your cells, so they're not a high-replacement item (there's even a potential aftermarket for used packs). But that's a ton of money. However, $5k for the cells would be a *dramatic* improvement, and quite realistic when you consider how much it simplifies the rest of your vehicle.

    All of this would come with a whole range of other benefits. You'd never have to go to a gas station again. Your fuel would cost a small fraction as much as gasoline. Your maintenance would be way lower. Even your brakes would wear down slower (regen). If smart grid features take off, you could make money by simply leaving your vehicle plugged in. Increasing vehicle power is comparatively very cheap versus gasoline and actually *increases* your vehicle's efficiency slightly (fatter conductors to handle the higher peaks = lower losses at under normal driving conditions). On and on and on.

  • by dbIII (701233) on Saturday December 01, 2012 @12:31AM (#42152129)
    It's taken decades from initial R&D to the current batteries. Some of the stuff that was only working in the lab when I was a student 20+ years ago is now becoming commercially available and there's a lot of very interesting stuff in development now. The time lag is mostly due to limited resources being spent on R&D so a very small number of people are working on one technology at any time. Many of the things available now were improved after a long series of tests only because there were not enough people working on them to do some things in parallel.
    So to sum up, putting a bit of extra effort into some promising designs could produce results very quickly.
  • Re:Chu! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MrL0G1C (867445) on Saturday December 01, 2012 @05:35AM (#42153277) Journal

    Cars could be much more efficient if they didn't weigh 2 tons. Reduce the weight to something sensible and your problem is solved.

    I know it's a radical idea but why not have separate roads for light and efficient vehicles - bicycles, low cc motorbikes and ultra-efficient, light cars, and then high taxes and the absurdly heavy cars can go on the roads with the trucks etc.

    Most cars are only carrying one person most of the time anyway, 2000 kilos to carry 80 kilos strikes me as daft.

  • Re:Chu! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by UsuallyReasonable (2715457) on Saturday December 01, 2012 @06:58AM (#42153521)
    I agree. My first response to this article was "Oh, I see. Spend more money, and suddenly the laws of physics change by a factor of 25." Somehow I think not. It's not like private industry hasn't been doing research on batteries . . . the person/company who could achieve the kind of breakthrough that these idiots think throwing money at it will achieve would become very, very wealthy indeed. But the government will do it better at that level with a simple wave of its hand? I doubt it.
  • Re:Chu! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by whizbang77045 (1342005) on Saturday December 01, 2012 @10:39AM (#42154263)
    Yes, and Obamacare is just as practical and just as realistic.

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