By Ariel Wittenberg

Welcome to what Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx is calling the “crush of opportunity” in the automotive and transit industry.

From electric cars to autonomous vehicles, transportation is undergoing its most drastic transformation since Karl Benz invented the automobile in 1885.

With new models of electric vehicles coming on the market every year, automakers are trying to attract new customers, those who care more about convenience than environmental virtue. That means developing new battery technology to make vehicles go farther between charges, as well as infrastructure that ensures charging stations are available when and where drivers need them.

At the same time, government regulators are working to make sure transportation systems work for everyone. From building safe bike lanes across highways to promoting vehicle-to-infrastructure technology that lets cars “talk” to traffic lights, transportation departments want to make sure the nation’s infrastructure is prepared for the technological transformation.

Here are five people who are working to transform transportation:

George Crabtree, Joint Center for Energy Storage Research

Crabtree wishes he could own an electric vehicle. But the models currently on the market either are too expensive or don’t travel far enough between charges.

“The reason I don’t have one is because I drive 50 miles to work every day,” he said.

Luckily for would-be consumers like himself, Crabtree’s job is trying to change that.

As director of the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR) at Argonne National Laboratory, Crabtree heads the 5-5-5 initiative, which aims to develop battery prototypes that are capable of providing five times the energy density of current lithium-ion batteries at one-fifth the cost of commercial batteries in the next five years.

Since 2012, Crabtree’s team at JCESR has been looking for the next-generation battery, one not made out of lithium-ion, which could transform both the energy storage and transportation industries.

“If you want to get more electric vehicles on the road, what you need to do is make them a lot cheaper and perform a lot better,” Crabtree said. “And one of the most expensive parts of an electric car right now is its battery.”

Crabtree’s team is looking to identify different combinations of battery components that could help increase power storage capacity. There are over 1,800 possible combinations to design a “beyond-lithium-ion battery,” Crabtree says, and his team is using computer models to determine what materials or combinations would best optimize the anodes, cathodes and electrolytes that make up a battery.

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