I joined the U.S. national lab system two decades ago, in February 2002. Since then, I’ve heard the community agonize over a simple question: “How do we bring battery manufacturing back to the U.S.?” To some extent, we can ask the same question without the word “battery” in the sentence, and it would be equally applicable. What we’re seeing in batteries is a microcosm of a broader trend in the U.S. economy spanning three decades.
While the question is simple, the answer is nuanced and complicated. In batteries there were three reasons for the present state.
First, the market for batteries, namely electric vehicles, and stationary storage, have historically been anemic. Without demand, businesses have no incentive to build manufacturing capacity.
Second, building a battery or component manufacturing company is a long and expensive affair, often requiring hundreds of millions to multibillion dollars and a decade of sustained effort. This commitment gets more complicated in some parts of the supply chain, such as mining, where changing regulations can wreak havoc on investments.
Some countries dealt with this uncertainly with governmental intervention, providing supply-side subsidies and demand-side incentives to spur the market and create manufacturing centers. Further, these governments provided support to secure material supply and ensure that the growth in the industry was sustained over decades.
While the U.S. continued to churn new innovations and create small business aiming to bring them to market, we have been unable to scale them from lab prototypes to mass manufacturing.
Innovation and breakthroughs can occur anywhere. What is needed is an ecosystem that allows innovation to flourish while fostering the translation of ideas to mass manufacturing. — Venkat Srinivasan, ACCESS Director
But the last five years have seen a paradigm shift in the battery industry. With the expected 20x growth in the U.S. battery market and an equally impressive growth worldwide over the next decade, the demand for batteries has been unprecedented. Where demand goes, so does investment, with billions going toward the battery market to companies across the supply chain. The recent passage of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill and the proposed Inflation Reduction Act will provide a shot-in-the-arm to this industry.
2022 promises to be an inflection point where we now have the first real opportunity to build battery manufacturing in the U.S.
But other countries are not standing still. Innovation and breakthroughs can occur anywhere. What is needed is an ecosystem that allows innovation to flourish while fostering the translation of ideas to mass manufacturing. And we must do this fast and adapt to changes that inevitably occur.
In this summer edition of the ACCESS newsletter, we feature three aspects of this transition and how Argonne, working with the national lab system, is playing a pivotal role in the move to U.S. manufacturing of batteries.
First, we highlight innovations in machine learning that allow prediction of battery lifetimes with high fidelity with only a few months of testing. The innovations capture an apparent paradox: we want batteries to last many decades, but we don’t want to wait decades to see if they do. Using accelerated testing, along with sophisticated computational predictions aided by the latest machine learning tools, allows us to address this challenge. The applications of such a tool are remarkable, ranging from predicting the impact of using batteries in multiple stacked applications, accessing potential for second life of batteries, enabling new business models such as battery leasing, to name a few. This innovation is a great example of how we need to be smarter and do things faster than ever before.
Second, we highlight the building of the U.S .battery ecosystem under Li-Bridge, a public-private partnership aiming to bridge the battery supply gap. Li-Bridge organized an industry listening session to help understand the gaps we face in U.S. manufacturing. With attendance topping more than a thousand registrants and with ninety-one industry presentations spanning the whole supply chain, the two-day event was a clear demonstration that innovation is flourishing in the U.S. Li-Bridge has since continued to gather industry to brainstorm the most critical challenges and critical recommendations that can lead to U.S. leadership.
Finally, we highlight the importance of feeding the pipeline of innovation so the U.S. can sustain leadership for decades to come. Such leadership is rooted in fostering a fundamental science approach, exemplified by the research in the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR). JCESR performs transformative science, evidenced by its body of high-impact publications, but also translates this science to intellectual property for the U.S. Research in JCESR has already led to the creation of three startups, but this is only scratching the surface. We highlight 30+ JCESR patents that are ripe for further development into groundbreaking products.
But there is one fundamental aspect that is crucial for any of these approaches to result in impact: people. We need encourage and support the next generation of leaders, who will nurture this ecosystem and foster innovation. This newsletter features one of Argonne’s star researchers, Lei Cheng, who is not only a talented researcher, but also an emerging leader and broad thinker. Lei is part of a new program at Argonne called “NextGen” that trains promising scientists to be strategic in building large programs that can have big impact.
2022 has already been an exciting and interesting year. The future looks bright for batteries and U.S. innovation. But we cannot sit on our hands—it’s time to seize the moment.
Argonne National Laboratory seeks solutions to pressing national problems in science and technology. The nation’s first national laboratory, Argonne conducts leading-edge basic and applied scientific research in virtually every scientific discipline. Argonne researchers work closely with researchers from hundreds of companies, universities, and federal, state and municipal agencies to help them solve their specific problems, advance America’s scientific leadership and prepare the nation for a better future. With employees from more than 60 nations, Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science.
The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit https://energy.gov/science.