This truly is a unique time for the energy storage community. Over the past two years we have seen the confluence of three global trends: growing demand for storage, access to significant private capital, and government commitments to decarbonize. These three trends largely reinforce each in a virtuous cycle, with private investors responding positively to government mandates and providing more capital for manufacturing facilities. This in turn allows costs to drop further and new technology to reach the marketplace, making devices more attractive to consumers. Consumers, in turn, respond with increasing the demand further reinforcing the cycle.
But we have also seen the impact of this sudden focus on electrification—the looming supply chain challenges that have become an increasing concern everywhere. After years of falling costs for lithium-ion batteries, 2022 is the first year when costs have increased. The challenge is not just one of materials, but also in creating a trained workforce across the skill levels. In response to this challenge, the government passed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) and the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). Between these two bills, we now have significant supply-side and demand-side incentives to further drive the market. Further, we have seen the formation of a comprehensive battery strategy from the federal government, including the National Blueprint for Lithium Batteries and the creation of Li-Bridge, a public private alliance led by Argonne National Laboratory on behalf of the Department of Energy (DOE).
Sense of urgency
What seemed like science fiction just two years ago now seems real: a future that is fully electrified.
The rapid increase in activity in this sector also means that everyone is moving fast. The sense of urgency in the space is palpable. But with speed comes the risk of failure and increased possibility of missteps that slow the transition. The battery fires we’ve read about in the news are an example of that. Ensuring safety requires a comprehensive strategy starting from the materials all the way to battery packs, with tight integration and coordination between the battery supplier and the original equipment manufacturer. Such a strategy requires time and patience.
And with dramatic transitions, such as the one we’re in the midst of, there’s ample scope for overreaction, such as the bans some communities are considering when it comes to charging of electric vehicles (EVs) in apartments and condos. There is a real need for honest assessments and an unbiased approach to evaluating the breakthroughs as we rapidly move towards an electrified future.
“As we embark on this grand transition towards a clean energy future, we need to be ever vigilant of the perils on the path. The national lab system is here to help remove obstacles and be the voice of reason.” — Venkat Srinivasan, ACCESS Director
This is where the Department of Energy’s national lab system plays an oversized role. The role of the national nabs is to support the mission of the DOE and ensure that we as a nation have a secure and prosperous energy future. In this mission, the DOE labs have had a long history of being the custodians of data, embarking on unbiased analysis using cutting edge tools, and utilizing these tools to guide R&D and bring to light new breakthroughs. National labs don’t make products, and we don’t have to turn a profit—this gives us the luxury of being unbiased and objective.
Innovation in action
This edition of the ACCESS newsletter showcases some of the assessment, analysis, and breakthroughs that Argonne and our partners are embarking on. One of the stories we showcase speaks to the misinformation related to the greenhouse gas emissions of electric vehicles by examining, with rigorous analysis, the cost of and emissions of EVs compared to gasoline engine. Such analysis allows quantification of what is and isn’t possible and reminds us to be thoughtful about the energy transition.
We also showcase the work we do in collaboration with industry, a wonderful example of the storage ecosystem working together towards a common vision. As part of the lithium-ion battery recycling prize, Argonne has used its recycling tool, EverBatt, to examine the need for careful planning of locations for warehouses, decommissioning sites, and recycling facilities. The tool also help us quantify the impact of automation on supply chain costs. Such tools will help companies develop methods to reduce the overall cost of recycling.
The role of national labs will be amplified when the rest of the community joins hands with us to, for example, pool the data the world collects to help accelerate the pace of innovation. With the latest artificial intelligence and machine learning tools, vast troves of data can now be analyzed rapidly. And there is a LOT of battery data in the world—in universities, national labs, and in companies. But to make use of the data we need standards for data acquisition and sharing. Our lead story speaks to this need.
Collaboration will continue to be the key to discovering new materials that have breakthrough performance. We showcase one such breakthrough in battery cathodes wherein careful understanding on why degradation occurs allows us to propose and test solutions and thereby improve battery performance and life.
And we cap these stories with a treat: George Crabtree, director of the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research, was the guest on NPR Morning Edition explaining how energy storage is key to a clean energy future. This piece brings together two “institutions” I have respected for a long time: Morning Edition (which kept me company during by daily one-hour commute) and George (whom I’ve had the pleasure of working with closely for the past decade). George exemplifies everything about what a national lab scientist aspires to be: a thought leader, science communicator, and integrator of knowledge.
As we embark on this grand transition towards a clean energy future, we need to be ever vigilant of the perils on the path. The national lab system is here to help remove obstacles and be the voice of reason.
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.