Secretary of Energy Steven Chu announced yesterday that a consortium of companies and research institutions led by Argonne National Laboratory, known as the Joint Center for Energy Storage and Research (JCESR), has been designated as the new battery and energy storage hub of the U.S. Department of Energy.  The hub designation includes an award of $120 million over the next five years to fund research, development and commercialization of advanced battery technology.  Congratulations to NAATBatt members Dow Chemical Company and Applied Materials, which are commercial partners in the hub.

In announcing the award, Secretary Chu outlined his vision for how best to develop advanced battery technology in the United States.  He recounted how early in his career, he had opportunity to work with several veterans of the Manhattan Project.  Those veterans taught him that the key to success in a large technology project is getting the greatest minds across a number of disciplines together in the same room to work on a common problem.  This is the idea behind the new battery hub.

The new battery hub includes top battery scientists from six national laboratories, five universities, three major industrial companies (including Dow and Applied Materials), a start-up incubator, and an advisory council of venture capital firms.  Although the principal focus of JCESR will be basic science, the structure of the hub will encourage new technology developed in the laboratory to filter through several technical and business disciplines and move rapidly towards commercialization.

The objective of the hub is ambitious.  Eric Isaacs, Director of Argonne National Laboratory, stated that its goal is the Objective of Fives:  increasing the energy density of batteries by five times and reducing the cost of batteries by five times within the next five years.  Secretary Chu noted that if JCESAR can achieve even 80% of that objective, batteries would hit the price point necessary to become a major, disruptive technology on the grid and in automobiles.

As impressive as is the team assembled by JCESR, many of the teams that lost out on the hub award were equally impressive.  JCESR won over at least nine other consortia, which also included top companies, universities and national laboratories.  With all the doom and gloom that has been broadcast recently about the advanced battery industry in the United States, it is stunning to realize just how many resources in this area we still have and how relatively untapped they still remain.

The past two years have been rough for many in the U.S. advanced battery sector.  Next Friday that roughness will be exemplified by the bankruptcy auction of the assets of A123 Systems. 

Two years ago I reminded readers of this column that advanced battery technology is not a race, it is a boxing match.  The early rounds have not gone well—somewhat predictably.  But now with JCESR, Secretary Chu announced that the United States is bringing out the other arm.  The next rounds may end differently.