UIC To Partner in National Energy-Storage Project; UIC Physicist To Direct

The University of Illinois at Chicago is a partner in a new Batteries and Energy Storage Hub that will combine the R&D firepower of five Department of Energy national laboratories, five universities, and four private firms in an effort aimed at achieving revolutionary advances in battery performance.

The Hub, to be known as the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR) and led by Argonne National Laboratory, was selected for an award of up to $120 million over five years, U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu announced today in Chicago, where he was joined by Sen. Dick Durbin, Gov. Pat Quinn and Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

JCESR (pronounced “J-Caesar”) will be directed by Argonne senior scientist George W. Crabtree, who is distinguished professor of physics and electrical and mechanical engineering at UIC.

“The JCESR award brings top battery scientists and engineers from around the country to tackle a major energy challenge: creating next-generation batteries with many times the energy density at much lower cost within the next five years,” said Crabtree, an internationally recognized leader in energy research.

“UIC is proud to be a partner in a project of this scope to meet a crucial national need for a game-changing technology,” said Chancellor Paula Allen-Meares. “We’re looking forward to the journey of discovery, and confident that Professor Crabtree is just the person to lead it. He’ll have the full intellectual resources of the campus, and particularly our strong physics and chemistry departments and College of Engineering, behind him.”

According to the Energy Department, advancing next-generation battery and energy storage technologies for electric and hybrid cars and the electricity grid are a critical part of President Obama’s “all-of-the-above” energy strategy to reduce America’s reliance on foreign oil and lower energy costs for U.S. consumers.

“Based on the tremendous advances that have been made in the past few years,” said Chu, “there are very good reasons to believe that advanced battery technologies can and will play an increasingly valuable role in strengthening America’s energy and economic security by reducing our oil dependence, upgrading our aging power grid, and allowing us to take greater advantage of intermittent energy sources like wind and solar.”

The partnership between “world-leading” scientists and companies, Chu said, ensures that the advanced battery technologies the world needs “will be invented and built right here in America.”

Durbin said the project “promises to have a significant economic impact across Illinois, with the help of towns and businesses who have already agreed to partner on the commercialization of promising technology developed at the Hub.”

In a written statement, Sen. Mark Kirk said, “The research at the Energy Storage Hub has the potential to revolutionize the energy industry.” The Hub will “bring the private sector, national labs and universities together” to deliver new technologies and spur commercial innovation, he said.

Quinn is providing $5 million through his “Illinois Jobs Now!” capital construction plan to help build the state-of-the-art JCESR facility on the Argonne National Laboratory campus in suburban Chicago. Additionally, the governor has committed to working with the General Assembly to provide an additional $30 million in future capital funding for the building, which will serve as a nationwide center for energy storage research.

“Illinois is the birthplace of innovations that have changed the world, including the web browser, the cell phone and the ultrasound,” Quinn said.

Emanuel said he is focused on making Chicago “the electric vehicle and batteries capital of the nation,” as part of a “comprehensive strategy that will allow Chicago to lead in this industry, from conception to construction to implementation.”

The Hub will bring together some of the most advanced energy storage research programs in the U.S. Other national labs partnering in JCESR include Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories, and SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. Other university partners include Northwestern University, the University of Chicago, the University of Illinois’s Urbana-Champaign campus, and the University of Michigan. Four industrial partners — Dow Chemical Company; Applied Materials, Inc.; Johnson Controls, Inc. and Clean Energy Trust — have also joined, to help clear a path to the marketplace for the advances developed at JCESR.

“JCESR provides key innovations not only in basic science and applied technology, but also in end-to-end management of the entire research and development chain,” said Crabtree. “We will set the model for creating the energy innovations of the future.”

Energy Innovation Hubs are major integrated research centers with researchers from different institutions and technical backgrounds that combine basic and applied research with engineering to accelerate scientific discovery in critical areas. They are modeled on the scientific management principles of the Manhattan Project; Lincoln Lab at MIT that developed radar; AT&T Bell Laboratories that developed the transistor; and, more recently, the Bioenergy Research Centers.

JCESR is the fourth Energy Innovation Hub established by DOE since 2010. It was selected through an open national competition with rigorous merit review by outside experts. Other Hubs are devoted to modeling and simulation of nuclear reactors, achieving major improvements in the energy efficiency of buildings, and developing fuels from sunlight. A fifth Hub focused on critical materials research was announced earlier this year and is still in the application process.

Over several decades, DOE national laboratories and DOE-funded university research programs have been responsible for some of the most important advances in battery technology. For example, key battery improvements developed at Argonne helped make the Chevy Volt battery possible.

[Editors note: Photos of Crabtree, Other photos and video. ]

UIC ranks among the nation’s leading research universities and is Chicago’s largest university with 27,500 students, 12,000 faculty and staff, 15 colleges and the state’s major public medical center. A hallmark of the campus is the Great Cities Commitment, through which UIC faculty, students and staff engage with community, corporate, foundation and government partners in hundreds of programs to improve the quality of life in metropolitan areas around the world.

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