New JCESR Consortium Aims to Make U.S. a Battery Powerhouse

In an effort to bolster battery science and manufacturing prospects in the United States and stay on top of a global industry valued at $42 billion – and growing about 8 percent annually – the Department of Energy is set to fund the new Joint Center for Energy Storage Research, to the tune of up to $120 million over the next five years.

JCESR (pronounced “J Caesar”) will be headed by Illinois’ Argonne National Laboratory, one of the nation’s leading research and development institutes that has also left its fingerprints all over the Chevrolet Volt’s lithium-ion battery chemistry. JCESR’s purpose is to accelerate battery R&D for transportation and power grid applications, which could have an enormous technological impact on future plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles, plus their life source. Collaborations between research entities and private companies are not uncommon, but JCESR’s scale, parties involved, level of federal and state financial commitment, and technical depth have the consortium being likened to the Manhattan Project of battery tech around the news-sphere. JCESR is the DOE’s fourth Energy Innovation Hub.

A critical JCESR feature is putting top scientists and engineers under the same roof, remarked U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu at a press conference in downtown Chicago. A new JCESR facility will be built on the Argonne lcampus, with $5 million contributed from the Illinois Jobs Now! program for its construction. Additionally, JCESR will be capable of prototyping and manufacturing on small scales, all while communicating with potential companies that’ll handle large-scale production (as seen fit). Being able to streamline operations – moving from the starting lab to a manufacturing test bench – in a single location is a huge draw. Argonne director Eric Isaacs asserts JCESR will be looking “beyond lithium-ion” and will dive into the molecular level and complex new materials. Other battery-related startups and companies are predicted to flock to the Chicago region too.

The goals are aggressive. Given JCESR’s experimentation and boundary-pushing plans, Isaacs identifies a need for battery improvements in factors of five: 5-times more power and 5-times less expensive in 5 years’ time. Chu, for a bit of comic relief, said a factor of four would have worked but five was a better number. Ambitious? Absolutely. And if JCESR is successful within the allotted timeframe, the door will be open for another 5 years of DOE support.

So what does that mean for cars? It’s too early to tell, but if all goes well, we wouldn’t expect whatever tech that springs out of JCESR to make it onto the auto market immediately. JCESR’s presence isn’t harkening the demise of conventionally powered vehicles. But with some of nation’s brightest minds dedicated to advancing technology widely acknowledged as being critical to the U.S.’s energy security and reinforcing an aging electrical infrastructure, it’s hard to imagine the future of plug-in vehicles’ battery energy and power density are anything but beet-red rosy. And in the face of major battery competition stemming from Japan and South Korea, it’s promising that American brainpower and manufacturing capacity will be forging ahead on home turf.

JCESR is comprised of five DOE national labs, five universities, and four private-sector enterprises.

National Labs

1)      Argonne National Laboratory – Argonne, Illinois (lead)

2)      Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory – Berkeley, California

3)      Pacific Northwest National Laboratory – Richland, Washington

4)      Sandia National Laboratories – Albuquerque, New Mexico (primary site)

5)      SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory – Menlo Park, California


1)      Northwestern University – Evanston, Illinois

2)      University of Chicago – Chicago, Illinois

3)      University of Illinois at Chicago – Chicago, Illinois

4)      University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign – Champaign and Urbana, Illinois

5)      University of Michigan – Ann Arbor, Michigan

Private Industry

1)      Applied Materials

2)      Clean Energy Trust

3)      Dow Chemical Company

4)      Johnson Controls

George Crabtree, Argonne senior scientist and a distinguished professor from the University of Illinois at Chicago, will be JCESR director.

Source: Argonne National Laboratory

By Benson Kong