Argonne chosen as Energy Dept. hub for advancing electric car batteries
Rebecca Riebe, with Global Midwest Alliance, smiles before departing in a Mitsubishi MiEV, a 100 percent plug-in electric vehicle, during a showcase of cars that run on alternative fuels by the Illinois Chamber of Commerce and Argonne National Laboratory at The Autobahn Country Club Thursday, Aug. 16, 2012, in Joliet. | Matthew Grotto~Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 1, 2013 6:27AM
Argonne National Laboratory will be the home of a new center charged with developing advanced batteries for electric vehicles and alternative energy sources — a designation expected to bring in as much as $120 million in federal research funds.
Building the Joint Center of Energy Storage Research at Argonne also will make the Chicago area an international hub for creating and manufacturing a new generation of powerful, affordable batteries that could help reduce U.S. dependence on fossil fuels, officials predicted Thursday.
“This is going to be a big deal,” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said. “I think it’s going to make Chicago the epicenter of battery research and development.”
U.S. Energy Department officials and Illinois political leaders on Friday will formally announce the federal lab near Lemont has been chosen as the site for the new research center.
The Energy Department earlier this year announced plans to create a national center to design improved batteries and electrical storage systems for a variety of uses, including powering electric vehicles.
But the center won’t focus strictly on research.
Manufacturers and designers also will be involved to help determine how technological advances can quickly be used in new products, officials said.
“This creates a real hub of activity to accelerate the development of new batteries. We have very high hopes,” Argonne Director Eric Isaacs said, comparing the intensive effort to the famed “Manhattan Project” that created the atomic bomb during World War II.
The collaborative research effort already includes several private companies, including Dow Chemical Co., and other companies ultimately might want to locate manufacturing plants in the region to take advantage of the work done there, Isaacs said.
“It could be a tremendous engine for growth,” Isaacs said.
That’s what political leaders are banking on.
“I think it’s going to give us an enhanced chance of encouraging them to come to the area because they’re going to want to be close to this research,” said Emanuel, who earlier this week announced that an electrical vehicle manufacturer will open a Chicago plant with the help of a $15 million city incentive plan.
The new center is expected to receive about $20 million in federal funds to begin operating. Energy Department officials have said it could receive an additional $25 million annually for four years to fund its work.
Argonne long has been involved in battery and energy research, including helping create the batteries used to power Chevy’s Volt.
Creating improved yet cheaper batteries to power electric and hybrid cars will be part of the center’s mission, Isaacs said.
But other efforts will focus on developing affordable systems to store electricity generated by wind turbines or solar panels, he said.
“There’s a lot of overlap. It makes sense to target both at the same time,” Isaacs said.
The use of those types of alternative energy now are limited because storing the electricity they generate is difficult and expensive, Isaacs said.
The research effort also will include experts from several other national labs as well as from four Illinois universities, including Northwestern University, the University of Chicago, the University of Illinois and the University of Illinois-Chicago.