By Marni Pyke

Imagine an electric car that costs less than $40,000 and runs on a battery which doesn’t fill half the vehicle.

Imagine a battery with the capacity to store wind and solar power on cloudy, still days.

Imagine both concepts becoming reality within five years.

Anything is possible, with the right combination of lab coats, business suits and mechanics’ coveralls, Argonne National Laboratory researchers think.

For years, [Argonne National Laboraty] has worked to build a better battery, upping the ante on the lithium-ion version that powers hybrids and electric cars like the Chevrolet Volt.
That effort took a quantum leap late last year when the U.S. Department of Energy announced the creation of a battery dream team at Argonne that combines science and industry, including businesses like Dow Chemical Co.

Up to $120 million in federal funding is dedicated for a battery storage research center charged (pun intended) with two goals: invent a battery that goes further and is smaller than those currently used in electric cars and hybrids; and figure out how to improve storage of renewable energy such as wind or solar on the electrical grid.

And since “battery dream team” is too short for a $120 million project, it actually has two names — the Batteries and Energy Storage Hub or Joint Center for Energy Storage Research, or JCESR.

Argonne’s proposal, chosen in a competitive process, is simple. “Five, five, five,” said JCESR Director George Crabtree, a physicist and engineer. That means creating batteries with five times the energy density at one-fifth of the cost within five years.

Getting to that goal is anything but simple. “These are stretch goals,” Crabtree said.

What makes it achievable is the mix of scientists, local universities and national labs partnering in the effort, researchers said.

‘We’re pulling together the best scientific minds in the country to look at new ways to store energy,’ said JCESR Deputy Director Jeff Chamberlain, a surface chemist who lives in Aurora.

Bringing the scientists down to earth will be representatives from the private sector.

‘It’s very easy for academic researchers to sometimes take their eyes off the ultimate goal, but if we have some partners who think about profitability, it will help keep us aimed in that direction,’ Chamberlain said.

For example, Chamberlain recalled talking to Ford executives about producing an electric car that could go 300 miles on one charge. They pragmatically deflated his balloon by pointing out that the U.S. doesn’t have the electrical infrastructure to support that state-of-the-art battery yet, so he should adjust his target…

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