Frontiers in Energy Research: May 2013

Energy Storage Everywhere

The newest Energy Innovation Hub provides synergy with Energy Frontier Research Centers

From left, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn and U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu talk with Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR) Director George Crabtree and Deputy Director Jeff Chamberlain after the Hub’s announcement on November 30, 2012. Image courtesy of Argonne National Laboratory.

In a new paradigm for battery development, JCESR unites discovery science, materials design, battery system design and advanced prototyping in a highly interactive process.

The wait was over. After a year of preparing and months of anticipation, the Argonne National Laboratory-led team was awarded the coveted Batteries and Energy Storage Hub, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Basic Energy Sciences. On November 30, 2012, this fact was broadcast to the press from the University of Chicago. U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, Mayor of Chicago Rahm Emanuel, Governor of Illinois Pat Quinn and Director of Argonne Eric Isaacs had all convened to formally introduce the winning team, the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR—pronounced jay-see-zer), and charge it up for the road ahead.

Fast forward three months to the snowiest day of this Chicago winter, and you’ll find leaders from JCESR and five energy-storage-heavy Energy Frontier Research Centers—CEES, EMC2, FIRST, NEES and NECCES—gathered to identify areas for possible synergy. There are a myriad of chemistries that store electrical energy. The Energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRCs) contain a significant focus on lithium-ion batteries and capacitors whereas JCESR is looking beyond lithium ion. For many in the room, this was their first time learning precisely what JCESR plans to do. There to explain the JCESR strategy was its director, George Crabtree.

Distinguished Fellow at Argonne and Distinguished Professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Crabtree presented the JCESR team, their core scientific challenges and their paradigm for battery development, which features end-to-end integration between basic research and commercial deployment. With ambitious battery performance targets in the distance, JCESR is looking beyond traditional lithium-ion chemistry to wider open spaces. These new areas include multivalent intercalation chemistry (e.g., shuttling divalent magnesium ions between electrodes instead of monovalent lithium ions), energy storage in chemical bonds (e.g., lithium-sulfur and lithium-oxygen electrodes), and storing energy in liquids via non-aqueous redox flow batteries. At the core of JCESR is basic, fundamental research in these scientific categories.

Readily apparent from the presentations of the day, during which the participants’ homebound flights were increasingly delayed or cancelled because of the storm, was that the ongoing research of the EFRCs and the proposed research of the Hub were largely delineated by battery chemistries and battery formats. The few scientists who are members of both the Hub and an EFRC see no redundancies between the two efforts. For example, Argonne physicist Paul Fenter, a member of the Center for Electrical Energy Storage (CEES) EFRC and JCESR, attests the two projects will be easily distinguished. The common thread in his work is using X-ray-based tools to understand liquid-solid interfaces, common in all batteries and in geologic systems, which are his original systems of study. Indeed, many of the characterization-based researchers are accustomed to applying their expertise to multiple systems of interest, using the same tools with different people and different problems.

X-ray-based tools and the drive towards operando characterization are a significant area of overlap between JCESR and the EFRCs. Other areas of commonality include a focus on the double-layer structure at interfaces and targeted research on lithium-sulfur batteries.

It is clear there is a lot to gain by fostering communication between the energy storage EFRCs and JCESR. While both the Hub and the EFRCs are tasked with basic discovery science, the Hub has the additional responsibilities of development, demonstration and deployment, which will be spearheaded by the architect of the JCESR proposal, Jeff Chamberlain. The EFRCs will have a chance to feed basic science information into JCESR techno-economic modeling (which projects systems-level performance and cost from materials-level input), information “genomes” and prototyping efforts. Conversely, JCESR can feed the EFRCs basic science challenges that it does not have the bandwidth to cover, and provide insights and data from modeling and prototyping efforts that are outside the EFRC’s scope.

The key will be continued communication and collaboration. To that end, JCESR researchers are planning workshops to serve the energy storage community, the first of which will focus on identifying grand battery science challenges and the next generation of characterization techniques that can address them. In addition, JCESR has specific people tasked with drawing out synergies between ongoing energy storage research (full disclosure—I am one of those people), so that the deployment of better batteries gets here even faster.

The participants at the energy storage EFRC/Hub kickoff meeting commented that it was a good start to leveraging outside skills and strategically planning future energy storage research within the United States. Particularly, the participants seemed eager to identify their intersecting interests and delve deeper into the science. “There were clearly many promising seeds for potential collaboration,” noted Tobias Hanrath, research thrust leader in the Energy Materials Center at Cornell (EMC2) and Assistant Professor at Cornell University. Alluded to by Crabtree and later echoed by Fenter, “The combination of the energy storage EFRCs along with JCESR is a powerful research program.”

Keeping the synergy going requires the involvement of young scientists. Top graduate student researchers and post-doctoral fellows will play a vital role in the success of both the EFRCs and the Hub, and will be given a voice in the workshops and seminar series to come. CEES and JCESR scientist Andy Gewirth from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is noticing that incoming graduate students and assistant professors are expressing more interest in electrochemistry than ever.

“People want to see the future; they want to work on the future,” says Gewirth. “This is, among other things, the golden age of electrochemistry.”

Disclaimer: The opinions in this newsletter are those of the individual authors and do not represent the views or position of the Department of Energy.

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