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Feature Story | Argonne National Laboratory

5 ways Argonne is driving auto innovation

Electric vehicle advancements aim to put fossil fuels in the rearview mirror

Technology brings zero-carbon electric vehicles closer to mainstream adoption.

As technology advances, so does the electric vehicle (EV). As a pioneer in battery technologies that power today’s EVs, the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory is at the forefront of the innovations that are bringing zero-carbon autos closer to mainstream adoption.

From building better EV batteries and speeding up charging to exploring alternative fuels and developing models to quantify EV-related costs and benefits, Argonne is forging a blueprint for the next generation of vehicles.

While the U.S. is a long way from going fully electric,” the wheels are in motion. From 2020 to 2021, sales of new light-duty plug-in EVs, including EVs and plug-in hybrid EVs, nearly doubled from 308,000 to 608,000, according to the DOE.

In recognition of the 2023 Chicago Auto Show, Feb. 11-20, we spotlight some of the ways Argonne is advancing clean vehicle technology that is aiding the transition away from fossil fuels.

Making charging extremely fast

Widespread EV adoption hinges on speeding up the battery charging time, which currently can take anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours.

Through Argonne’s eXtreme Fast Charge Cell Evaluation of Lithium-ion Batteries (XCEL) initiative, scientists are working toward a recharging time of 15 minutes or less by overcoming barriers associated with lithium-ion batteries that power most EVs.

To better understand battery limitations, scientists are building cells with a variety of designs, testing those cells under different conditions, characterizing them during and after testing and modeling the test results.

Research through the XCEL initiative, which began in 2017, has already demonstrated in laboratory tests an increase by 50% the energy density — or the driving range packed into a battery — that is possible with fast charging.

Scientists use the intense X-ray beams of the Advanced Photon Source, a DOE Office of Science user facility located at Argonne, to study the cells, and they work in Argonne’s Cell Analysis, Modeling and Prototyping Facility to manufacture full-size prototype battery electrodes and cells.

Argonne is working with DOE’s Idaho National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory on the initiative.

Calculating benefits of EV charging stations

By decade’s end, the U.S. government plans to roll out 500,000 public EV charging stations across the country. Argonne supports the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Formula Program that will distribute $5 billion to states to create the massive infrastructure.

Argonne is developing online tools that help states generate critical data in key areas, including economics and equity, needed to create detailed plans to secure a piece of that funding.

With the goal of giving all residents equal access to electric vehicle charging, as requested by the Joint Office of Energy and Transportation, Argonne developed the interactive Electric Vehicle Charging Justice40 Map to help states align their efforts with federal goals to flow 40% of federal benefits, including funding for clean transportation, to underserved communities.

Argonne’s JOBS EVSE 2.0 (electric vehicle supply equipment) tool helps states demonstrate the economic benefits related to installing charging stations. Users can quickly estimate the economic impacts associated with the development, construction and operation of EV charging stations, including the potential to create jobs.

Maximizing connected and automated vehicle benefits

Today’s cars are learning to maneuver themselves. From adaptive cruise control systems already on the market to driverless cars that haven’t yet hit the road, vehicles now feature increasing connectivity and automation. So far, developers of these automated systems have focused on the necessities of safety and functionality; however, there exist significant opportunities to improve energy efficiency. Argonne has developed a unique platform combining real-world and virtual testing to assess connected and automated vehicle (CAV) technologies. The new approach allows researchers to quickly and cost-effectively evaluate the performance of these technologies in terms of energy use and emissions.

Using Argonne’s RoadRunner tool, researchers can set up environments that effectively ​“talk” to individual CAVs, telling them when another car is coming or a traffic light lies ahead. The environment might be entirely virtual or actual hardware in the lab or on a road. The virtual tests help cut the time, effort and expense required to do experiments on the chassis dynamometer — a mechanical device simulating different road conditions — or out on a track. Using RoadRunner, the Argonne team has developed control algorithms for individual automated vehicles that reduce fuel consumption up to 15% and up to 22% when integrated with vehicle-to-infrastructure communication of traffic signal information. Having developed these algorithms entirely within a simulated environment, the team is now testing them in the lab.

This work is funded through the Systems and Modeling for Accelerated Research in Transportation (SMART) Mobility Consortium, an initiative of the Vehicle Technologies Office within DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy.

Fostering Future Innovators

On the final day of Autonomous Vehicle Camp, Ava Peek places the self-driving car she designed into a maze to test out its capabilities. (Image by Argonne/Educational Programs and Outreach.)

From designing the car of the future to building a self-driving vehicle, Argonne offers fertile ground for the next generation of innovators.

Inspired by Argonne’s Autonomous Vehicle Competition, the Autonomous Vehicle Camp challenges high school students to design and program a small, self-driving vehicle in just one week. Students use hands-on science and engineering skills to build a car that can maneuver through specially built obstacle courses. Introduced in 2022, the camp is the newest addition to Argonne’s roster of science, technology, engineering and mathematics summer camps.

The EcoCar EV Challenge is a four-year research and experimental learning competition that challenges hundreds of college students to engineer next-generation novel technologies for battery EVs. DOE, General Motors and Mathworks sponsor the challenge through a combined annual investment. Managed by Argonne, the EcoCAR EV Challenge incorporates diversity, equity and inclusion into all areas of the competition.

Launched in 2022, EcoCar EV is the most recent in the DOE/Argonne Advanced Vehicle Technology Competition, which began in 1988.

DRIVE-ing down the cost, emissions of EVs

Advanced technology is reducing EV prices and slashing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. But how do we assess those fluctuations? As a global leader in cradle-to-grave and life-cycle analyses, Argonne is fronting a multi-industry effort to track — and predict — the cost and GHG emissions of EVs over their entire life cycle.

U.S. DRIVE, the United States Driving Research and Innovation for Vehicle Efficiency and Energy Sustainability, is a voluntary government-industry partnership that includes DOE and multiple automotive, energy and utility companies.

The U.S. DRIVE team used Argonne’s Greenhouse gases, Regulated Emissions and Energy use in Technologies (GREET®) model to quantify GHG emissions from both the fuel and vehicle production life cycles. Scientists estimated fuel economies, cost and component sizing using Argonne’s vehicle simulation tool, Autonomie.

A pair of reports issued in 2022 revealed that EVs may soon become less expensive to own and operate than traditional gas-powered vehicles, while cutting GHG emissions by more than half.

Argonne is also using the GREET model to analyze the environmental trade-offs in owning an EV versus a conventional vehicle. Learn more in this episode of our Science at Work series.

About the Advanced Photon Source

The U. S. Department of Energy Office of Science’s Advanced Photon Source (APS) at Argonne National Laboratory is one of the world’s most productive X-ray light source facilities. The APS provides high-brightness X-ray beams to a diverse community of researchers in materials science, chemistry, condensed matter physics, the life and environmental sciences, and applied research. These X-rays are ideally suited for explorations of materials and biological structures; elemental distribution; chemical, magnetic, electronic states; and a wide range of technologically important engineering systems from batteries to fuel injector sprays, all of which are the foundations of our nation’s economic, technological, and physical well-being. Each year, more than 5,000 researchers use the APS to produce over 2,000 publications detailing impactful discoveries, and solve more vital biological protein structures than users of any other X-ray light source research facility. APS scientists and engineers innovate technology that is at the heart of advancing accelerator and light-source operations. This includes the insertion devices that produce extreme-brightness X-rays prized by researchers, lenses that focus the X-rays down to a few nanometers, instrumentation that maximizes the way the X-rays interact with samples being studied, and software that gathers and manages the massive quantity of data resulting from discovery research at the APS.

This research used resources of the Advanced Photon Source, a U.S. DOE Office of Science User Facility operated for the DOE Office of Science by Argonne National Laboratory under Contract No. DE-AC02-06CH11357.

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://​ener​gy​.gov/​s​c​ience.