The Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (or JCESR, pronounced "J-Caesar"; is a federally-funded research partnership that integrates government, academic, and industrial researchers from many disciplines to overcome critical scientific and technical barriers to discover new breakthrough energy storage technology. Argonne National Laboratory, a U.S. Dept. of Energy national lab just outside Chicago, leads JCESR, and partners include the University of Chicago, Dow Chemical, Johnson Controls, the University of Michigan, and others.

I really have enjoyed this time with all of you. You are well-informed and curious, which is precisely the combination we need! Thank you for the questions and comments. I’ll log on later to answer some more questions.

EDIT: Answering questions for another hour now! -Jeff

EDIT AGAIN: Thanks so much everyone. I've really enjoyed talking with such a well-informed and funny group. It really means a lot to me to get all the thanks from everyone, for just doing my job!


Comments: 692 • Responses: 44  • Date: 

MrManson99166 karma

Do we have a timetable for a battery that only needs 5 minutes of charging?

Jeff_Chamberlain331 karma

Kind of. The real answer is, we can vary battery chemistry, cell design, and pack design for whatever application you are aiming for. Meaning, I could give you a battery today that charges in 5 minutes. Problem is, as I'm sure you know, you need both power (fast charging and discharging) and high energy capacity. With most chemistries, you have to trade these off – you want high power, you give up capacity, and vice versa. What we're working on is a way to get chemistry that can give you both. So, a timetable? Difficult to give one. How's this. Certainly in our lifetime.

TurboSalsa171 karma

Certainly in our lifetime.

Thank you for giving a realistic answer instead of "it's just 5 years down the road!"

vlasvilneous93 karma

Well... depending on someones lifetime...

Jeff_Chamberlain184 karma

Clarification: I am 48 years old, and hope to live another 40 (35 at least)… So, that's what I mean by "our" lifetime!

Inthenameofscience68 karma

Only another 35 years minimum? You dream small, Mr. Chamberlain.

Jeff_Chamberlain700 karma

Truth is I am hoping to be full of life-preserving batteries 30 years from now, and live until I am 150.

Plus, That's Dr. Chamberlain to you. :)

Inthenameofscience52 karma

This was the best reply ever. Thank you Dr!

I should ask you something if I have your attention for a moment.

What role do you believe batteries will take from a futurist standpoint? Many on /r/futurology believe that current battery technology is holding us back as a species from advancing forward. I think you even mentioned in an earlier post how many different factors affect a batteries potential to change the market/the world.

Lastly, about how long does it usually take to go from mulling over an idea to research, experimentation, and eventually production?

Jeff_Chamberlain65 karma

I will address your last question (the other one is too big for right now, and this is my last answer! For now anyway)

It takes a long, long time. Most folks outside of science and engineering don't have a good feel for this, so I am glad you asked. For reference, I suggest reading The Idea Factory, by Gertner, about Bell Labs (

To go from an idea for something physically new, to implementation commercially, it usually takes a low number of decades. The Manhattan Project and the Apollo Missions are exceptions, but in my view there are two variables: time and effort (effort = money + person-years). In these cases, the Effort variable was WAY larger in the Manhattan Project and the Apollo Missions than for typical science and technology projects.

The reason we fool ourselves into thinking it only takes a short time is because of the rapid evolution of technology once the basis is there. An example is the advance in personal computing (up to and including smart phones) through the 80s, 90s, and 2000s. But, it took decades to understand and perfect the microchip before this series of rapid advances. (Remember, all integrated circuits are silicon, so advances have been incrementally based on this one material.) In batteries, we are trying to go to a completely different set of materials. We incorporate industry in our research to try to compress this long time scale.

antisyzygy2 karma

It seems like you are focused on Chemical batteries.

I read something before about capacitor/batteries that store energy between two plates (well that's sort of the definition of a capacitor). What are the benefits and drawbacks of those vs. chemical batteries?

Jeff_Chamberlain3 karma

The super capacitor you are describing is great for storing energy for short periods, and really great for high power applications. They are not good for storing lots of energy for lots of time. Plus, the energy "leaks" out over time between charges in a way that regular batteries do not...

LaoZhe22 karma

Couldn't you do that now if you used a charger that operated at a high enough amperage?

Jeff_Chamberlain51 karma

Yes – I forgot to mention, power is not only chemistry based. Pack and cell design, and charger design (and a modernized electric grid!) are needed together, but, if we can go to higher voltage and higher amperage, you can ultimately charge faster.

Here's the important thing, from Argonne's perspective: As we work on the chemistry, we need to link ourselves well to industry so that all the engineering can be done to deliver the goods. And, in a way where the companies can profit.

mshake176165 karma

What is the most promising research you are currently working on?

Jeff_Chamberlain274 karma

Great question from an investor in our research (assuming you pay U.S. taxes)… If the JCESR team across the country is reading this, of course I am happy with the research from all quarters. But, my immediate response to your question is this: From the applied side of the research spectrum, there are two battery chemistries that we are making progress on: 1) magnesium ion batteries and 2) lithium sulfide semi-flow batteries. Magnesium releases 2 electrons per reaction, compared to one for lithium ion. At Argonne and University of Illinois-Chicago, we've recently found a combination of electrolyte that enables us to experiment simultaneously with Mg metal at the anode, and a cathode host that intercalates Mg. Very exciting. With the lithium sulfide, there has been some really good work by our Hub members at SLAC/Stanford, MIT, and U. Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Note Mg is aimed at electric transport, and Li-sulfide will be aimed at grid applications. On the more basic side, we are really excited about the development and use of what we call the "Electrolyte Genome" (EG). This effort is led by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, with Argonne and MIT. In the EG, we use sophisticated computational models to "invent" molecules and predict computationally their behaviors. We've performed computations for thousands of molecules the last six months – this gives us a catalogue of new materials to choose from to synthesize and test, not only to find winning technology, but also to verify and improve the models. It is worth noting that, outside of the JCESR project, Argonne and many other national labs and universities are also working to develop new, breakthrough materials for lithium ion technology. Our aggressive reach in JCESR to discover chemistry that takes us beyond lithium ion is complemented by research we do in lithium ion that we believe will double the performance and halve the cost of lithium ion technology.

Errenden46 karma

What about sodium sulfur batteries? With Lithium being on the rare-ish side of things, have those made any progress in the past couple of years? I vaguely remember there was work on making them viable at much lower temperatures but have since lost track.

Jeff_Chamberlain70 karma

There is some work being done on lower-temperature sodium sulfur in the field. But, the vast majority of sodium sulfur research and product development is at high temperature, and relying on delicate ceramic separators that can withstand the temperature (see GE Durathon battery).

In the Joint Center, we are working to understand fundamental properties such as ion transport and reactions at surfaces. We hope to have the kind of breakthroughs that can then be applied to systems (e.g. Low-T sodium sulfur) even though we are not directly aiming at prototyping that given technology in the timeframe of our grant.

Kinperor100 karma

What is your opinion on nuclear energy for the US (or anyone else for that matter)?

Does the JCESR have the same stance?

Jeff_Chamberlain271 karma

My personal stance is that it is really too bad we backed away from nuclear in the 70s and 80s. Nuclear technology has improved dramatically in both performance and safety since then, and we are just slow to adopt the technology. Nuclear, assuming safe operation and waste handling, is a superb way to generate electricity, generally speaking. (Remember I am not an expert…) I have often thought that, when the aliens land centuries from now, and we're still burning coal, they'll say "You learned how to harness atomic energy in the 1900s and you're still burning coal??"

We have to remember that one of the main problems in Fukishima was the on-site storage of hot waste. If we can solve that problem, the technology is well worth using.

All my opinions…

devhdoge129 karma

Yeah but let's get back to the alien thing

Robin_Banx64 karma

HEADLINE: Top Official from Department of Energy Confirms The Existence of Aliens

Jeff_Chamberlain30 karma


bullrick37 karma

What is the alien's view on nuclear?

nitro34033 karma

Nucular. Its pronounced nucular.

Jeff_Chamberlain9 karma

You're a real mushroom. /too obscure?

CriticalThink2 karma

The doctor disagrees with you.

Jeff_Chamberlain8 karma

The Doctor never disagrees with me.

ajjjas23 karma

As a person who works in the controls industry, I spend a lot of time in power plants. While there, I absorb a lot of opinions about renewable energy, and the general dislike of it by fossil fuel plant workers. This is understandable, being that their jobs may be in jeopardy.

My question is, how much pressure is being brought to bear on you and your funding to abandon the research you're doing? I know their lobbies are powerful, because they have money.

Does any of that pressure reach you?

Jeff_Chamberlain18 karma

Interestingly, no. Well, not in any way we feel directly. I spend a reasonable amount of time on "The Hill," talking to Congress. Mostly I talk to Senate and House staffers, although sometimes also to the lawmakers themselves. I'm really happy to report two things: First, the young staffers are all 1) intelligent, 2) curious, and 3) enthusiastic, in a way that shows they care about what they do. Even in the caustic environment that exists there now!

Second, our work does pretty much appeal to both sides of the aisle in Washington. This isn't too surprising when you think about it - we are really aiming at energy security as well as economic security (on top of environmental security). These are pretty much non-partisan issues. Now, if batteries really started to make a dent in gasoline consumption, maybe we'd feel more pressure. But, by then it would be commercial, so I'm still not sure we'd feel the pressure back here in research.

All that said, when the partisan politics freezes Washington, it also freezes us. That is extraordinarily painful, and slows our research down terribly.

NuttGuy7 karma

Gosh I want to give you a high five after reading this.

Jeff_Chamberlain5 karma

high five

CPgreenspon75 karma

Hi Jeff-

My 6-11th grade students in Project Infinite Green are keenly interested in Mg being used for flow batteries. Their current research is on Mg as the anode (due to the double electron) with flow batteries. They are wondering what advantages there are to semi flow batteries as opposed to flow batteries. Are storage and containment some of the reasons? We are so glad to see you here. They've been reading everything they can get their hands (phones) on about JCESR!

Jeff_Chamberlain76 karma

So glad you are participating in this! Not only using social media, but participating in the serious question of energy and science that is needed to advance the human species! (But, kids, be sure to put away your phones and pay attention to your teacher when we're done here…)

Very good question – here is what I mean by "semi-flow": we are trying to find the best chemistry, through chemistry, physics, and engineering, to enable the best possible battery (in terms of cost, performance, and safety). One thing we are working on because of that question is, can we use metallic Mg (or Li) at the anode, and store the energy in a pure metal? Then, when you ionize and react that metal element, it releases energy. Lots of it. If the chemical species on the cathode side is best to be flowable, meaning it is in a liquid that you can flow across a reaction zone, that is semi-flow. Solid on one side (anode) and liquid on the other (cathode). This way, you can still capitalize on the great advantage of being able to control energy and power separately. The larger the reaction zone you flow across, the more power you can get; the larger the tank of flowable chemicals (or solid metal ingot) then the more overall energy you can store.

Thanks for being on hear! Great to hear from your group again – Go Science! (and Engineering!)

firebathero73 karma

Thoughts on the new Tesla gigafactory? Thanks

Jeff_Chamberlain116 karma

I love the gigafactory, both from the technology standpoint and the business standpoint. From the technology standpoint, it is an open question, what will Tesla do? Meaning, Tesla currently buys cells from Panasonic, and Panasonic has agreed to help Tesla build the gigafactory. But, the factory won't come on line for what, 3-5 years? So, will Tesla take the opportunity to improve (at least incrementally) the materials technology and/or cell design as they build the factory? Will they have their own design that integrates perfectly with their pack technology? I am seriously curious. From the business standpoint, I think it is awesome and smart and hilarious that Elon et al. forced various states to compete to have the gigafactory in their state. Elon stated months ago that Tesla wouldn't make a final choice until the shovels were about to be put in the ground. This not only would reduce his cost (via competitive subsidies) but also reduces his risk by giving himself choices with respect to which political situation would either interfere with or enable the realization of the gigafactory. Also, importantly, he gets to put the screws to his current supplier – Panasonic. Already Tesla is one of, if not the top, purchasers of Panasonic cells. As such, Panasonic has leverage over Tesla. Now that Tesla is building its own factory, they shift leverage over from their supplier to themselves. I learned this the hard way working for a company that invented products for Intel, IBM, TI, TSMC, etc. Mature companies know how to compete their supply chain – the gigafactory gives Tesla total control to compete their battery cell supply chain. Finally, as Tesla drives up volumes, cost will drop. And, Tesla aims to use batteries from the gigafactory both for cars and the grid. This will certainly drive volumes up and cost down (see Solar City).

FANGO22 karma

So far the only thing Tesla has mentioned is that they plan to change the geometry of the 18650 cell slightly. Here's the relevant portion of the last conference call:

5:56 pm: Without the Gigafactory, Musk says Tesla could perhaps get to 200,000 cars annually. But the factory will be needed to push to 300,000 annually and more. “There are improvements to chemistry.. as well as geometry of cell,” Musk says. Straubel says the cathode and anode of cells are next generation and so the new cells with be 10-15% more energy dense. Beyond that a lot will come from cost improvements. As Musk has noted in the past, a slightly larger cell is likely, perhaps 10% larger diameter (I’ve reported on this before). He says altering the diameter will improve “energy density per unit mass.”

I'm sure they'll also use whatever incremental improvements in battery technology come along. Tesla has always counted on an 8-10% improvement in battery tech (density, cost, etc) per year, and I'm sure that your lab has something to do with that, so thanks for helping make that happen :-) So when Tesla talks about 30% reduction in price with the gigafactory, part of that is process and supply chain improvements, and part of it is due to the natural advancement of battery technology.

Jeff_Chamberlain8 karma

Thanks for this. I had heard about the geometry changes, but still wonder what chemistry and other materials-level changes they might use.

firebathero6 karma

Thank you for your answer! If you had to guess, how much do you think Tesla pays for their batteries? I have heard it is anywhere from $150/kWh - $300/kWh.

Jeff_Chamberlain3 karma

I think Tesla has said they are on the high end of the range you say. But, through our models and really good knowledge of the field, we don't see how they could be that low. My guess is more like $350/kWh. Ish.

houleskis3 karma

Seeing that you're talking about businesses/the private sector, does your centre collaborate with any private entities? If so, in what shape does this collaboration take shape?

Also, does your team work on any projects that could be considered close to commercialization?

Jeff_Chamberlain7 karma

Beyond the National Lab and University partners we have, JCESR has partners from industry, yes. We are partnering with representatives of the key aspects of the value chain - Dow Chemical (materials), Applied Materials (manufacturing processes and equipment), Johnson Controls (the world's largest battery maker), and the Clean Energy Trust (a non-profit in Chicago aimed at enabling entrepreneurs). Importantly, the deal we cut with these entities enables them to work directly with us, but still allows for us to license others the technology as the need arises.

David_D_Montes56 karma

I understand that after JCESR became the U.S.'s battery hub, President Obama visited Argonne to survey the energy storage research facilities and talk with staff.

Did you meet him?

What was that visit like for Argonne researchers?

Jeff_Chamberlain143 karma

Yes, President Obama visited Argonne in March 2013 (we started the Hub right around Christmas '12). He wanted to learn about our battery work, as well as our work in advanced vehicles in general. The visit was crazy – the day before the visit I watched from my office three Marine Force helicopters land in the parking lot of my building for practice. A favorite story was the Secret Service wanted to bring a bomb-sniffing dog into the clean room… Turns out there is such a thing as a clean room suit for dogs. Why?? Day of his visit was great. His speech was inspiring – he was preaching to the choir about the importance of science! I sat in the second row, and shook his hand; others in the battery team actually toured him through our facility.

P.S. You're not related to Montez from Workaholics, are you?

David_D_Montes29 karma

Wow! Sounds great. That must have been exciting! A clean room suit for dogs! Funny.

No I am not Montez. Thank you though.

Jeff_Chamberlain78 karma

Well, I am now reading your entire thread in Montez's voice. So, there's that!

Sandbrink67 karma

Our nation's scientists watch workaholics. I feel better about myself now

Jeff_Chamberlain97 karma

Wait, are you saying I shouldn't watch workaholics? lol Only the best scientists watch Workaholics.

I have also finally gotten into Archer recently. (Thanks John!)

xSPYXEx9 karma

What does a clean room suit for a dog even look like? I keep imagining a dog shaped HAZMAT suit and it makes me giggle.

Moose_Hole9 karma

Didn't find an actual picture but here's the patent.

Jeff_Chamberlain9 karma

Here's one result from my GIS for "clean room suit for dogs":


tossme686 karma

Jeff, I know a few scientists from Argonne and they left to go to the cern because of the research dollars being cut. How are we supposed to lead when our best and brightest are leaving.

On another note, while we are in development has there been any thought on standardizing size and interfaces and by this I mean every AAA battery is the same size and voltage regardless of who makes it. I think this will be as important as the battery itself. This would allow manufacturers to create products for the battery without having to worry about how each battery varies in shape and plug-in allowing them to go with best of breed. In addition it solves the recharging problem because a battery could simply be swapped out.

Jeff_Chamberlain5 karma

This is indeed a very important issue. Until very recently, the battery makers (and automobile OEMs) pretty much wanted to duke it out, with the hopes that their individual technology would "win" the battle and become the standard. Of course this is kind of ridiculous. More recently, though, there has been a quiet move toward standardization.

Long way to go, though.

jfenech49 karma

Thank you for participating in this QA. Do your goals to develop new battery technology include sustainability and reuse of raw materials after a battery has expired ?

Jeff_Chamberlain61 karma

This is an important question because, if we solve part of the energy problem in the U.S. - successfully minimize our dependence on fossil fuels both for transportation and electricity use in general – it matters way more if we do it in a sustainable way.

Yes, we are aiming at earth-abundant materials, and intend to find ways to re-use and recycle the materials in batteries. However, we are really doing it by aiming at cost reduction. Here's what I mean: it is lower cost to use earth-abundant materials, both because their availability is higher, and because they are less expensive to waste or recycle. (Usually, but not always, the earth-abundant materials are less hazardous.) For example, magnesium (or calcium, which we are also studying) are generally less expensive and more available than other active battery materials.

pepperstuck24 karma

regular car batteries (not electric cars) are still lead-acid, right? Is that going to change anytime soon? why are we still using this old technology instead of lithium-ion?

Jeff_Chamberlain49 karma

Lead acid is a truly excellent technology that has evolved substantially over the last century, in ways we don't feel, or take for granted. For starting a vehicle, etc., lead acid is hard to beat technologically. And, there is a great business model there for Johnson Controls and others – you need a new battery every 5 years or so, and it is affordable. So, that's a good business to pursue. Imagine the business hurdle if you had a replacement for that that was as inexpensive as lead acid and only needed replacing every 15 years. It might take a while to catch on through the manufacturing chain because it is less profitable. My point is, there are always obvious technological drivers in combination with less obvious business drivers.

That said, Li-ion is going into vehicles as we speak, in so-called micro-hybrids. What's coming next in vehicles are cars that turn off at stoplights, and then turn back on when the light turns green. Prius and others have shown there is great efficiency to be achieved with this – lithium ion is going to dominate this emerging market, I think.

GreenHubRhi19 karma

How you intend to continue and expand battery production (including holdings/packaging etc) that isn't dependent on fossil fuel-based products? Plastics etc seem to be key components in current products.

Do you see a future where buildings can store their own energy to use accordingly? Effectively- a battery for an entire house/hospital/office block.

Jeff_Chamberlain34 karma

1) Well.. That's a good question that is hard to answer. I started my industrial career in the mining industry, and, frankly, gained a lot of respect for the engineers in the field (I was working in copper, moly, gold, and silver) not only for their smarts, and stewardship of the environment, but also for a new understanding I received about the importance of such an ancient practice – digging raw materials out of the ground to improve our lives. Point is – our use of fossil fuels is not going to stop anytime soon. Like, my children's children's' children are likely still going to be reliant on them. They are just really, really hard to beat in terms of cost performance. The question is, can we be better stewards (carbon capture, etc.) during our use of that valuable resource, while we wean ourselves off it. I think yes, but it's going to take generations of work. And, an appetite within world governments that have difficultly focusing past the next election. I'm optimistic, though.

2) YES!! That's one of the Joint Center's aims – to do the research that will enable a technology that is affordable and long-lasting (and safe) that we could put in our garages, or in the basement of a condo or hospital. Not only would we then store energy as backup power (would've come in handy during superstorm Sandy), but we could siphon electrify off the grid at night when it is cheaper, and use it during the day. This is going to happen, for sure.

TrueBlueSchteve19 karma

how does "wireless charging" work? Is that going to be the next big thing? Are you guys working on that?

Jeff_Chamberlain34 karma

We are not working on adapting this for vehicles in the Joint Center, but are working on it at Argonne. As part of the Interoperability Center (say THAT three times fast), we experiment with inductive charging of vehicles to better understand integration of the technology on the grid.

This is certainly futuristic thinking, but there is a possibility in the future that cars will inductively charge on the road. The technology is already there, but it seriously doesn't make sense from a cost perspective. Imagine not only charging while you drive (again, this is kind of dreamy because you need wires under the road, lots of power, etc), and being charged on your credit card automagically. Then, the Powers That Be could even direct traffic. My car could tell me the power is cheaper one road over (and it is made cheaper to drive traffic off a crowded road onto a less crowded road). I hope that happens. Might need the ghost of Gene Roddenberry to help us get there though.

Radiate_your_balls18 karma

will there ever be a way to store energy from the static in the atmosphere/lightning?

Jeff_Chamberlain51 karma

Hey – I grew up in Florida (after moving from Detroit when I was 10), and I used to dream about capturing the power of lightening. I even did some research in a high school Science and Technology class at Lake Mary High (great memories of Clyde Hayes) where I did a lot of reading on this subject. (It was a summer school class I took voluntarily – nerd alert!)

This is really almost impossible to imagine as a realistic possibility. There is just too much current – lighting will blow almost every circuit you can imagine. Supercapacitors might work, but then you still need to transfer that to a longer-term energy storage vehicle. Hm, as I write this I think as that little 11-year old, maybe it's possible?? It's a real, real reach though. Would basically solve the energy problem though!

devhdoge17 karma

How do you see batteries changing our lives in the next 5, 10, 20 years?

Jeff_Chamberlain45 karma

The bottom line is that, assuming we researchers and the industrial entities we aim to serve, are successful, then the citizens of the world (particularly in the U.S.) will achieve greater freedom. Meaning, imagine a world in which we have control over our energy production and use, either as individuals, or families, or neighbors, etc. If we can achieve inexpensive solar and/or wind, and can couple that with a great battery (or batteries), then we can become more self sufficient, both with respect to energy use in our daily lives as well as energy use in transport. Think social media. Individuals' voices are now heard more readily, through a variety of social media outlets. While this has damaged the old business model of media, it has increased the individuals' freedom to express him/herself and be heard (for good or bad). I think inexpensive and reliable advanced batteries will have the same effect on our energy system.

JonnyLay19 karma

look at this guy, the next twitter!

Thanks for your time by the way, really interesting stuff. Battery technology is probably the biggest bottleneck to electric/green progress. I'm very happy that we're putting some tax dollars towards it.

Jeff_Chamberlain19 karma

Thank you for paying attention, not to this Reddit, but to the importance of the Energy Problem. You fund this research, so you are a participant!

David_D_Montes16 karma

Do you perform research in a laboratory?

Jeff_Chamberlain43 karma

Do I personally? No. I moved into management about 12 years ago (working in industry at the time). For the first 3 years in industry I occasionally still got in the lab; since then, it's been much more about managing and leadership for me. I have mixed feelings about it – I REALLY miss doing experiments. But, I do enjoy filling the role I fill now.

wwickeddogg16 karma

Why is Hydrogen a bad idea as fuel?

Jeff_Chamberlain34 karma

Is it? I guess it just isn't being adopted yet, so, maybe.

Here's my view: Hydrogen fuel cells are a great technology that has evolved well since their development for the early U.S. Space program. For full deployment as a transportation fuel, there are only the following problems: hydrogen production, hydrogen transport, and use that relies on expensive catalysts (i.e. platinum). So, that's all. (That's humor – feel free to laugh.)

Really though, it is still too expensive to produce hydrogen, and the transport and storage systems are also non-existent compared to gas/diesel, and electricity. I did a calculation about 8 years ago that showed me that, from an energy perspective, the Shell station down the block from me would need three tanker truck deliveries of fuel per day of hydrogen (compared to 2/week of gasoline) to be the energy equivalent.

We have a great transport and delivery system in the U.S. for liquid fuels, but not so much for gaseous fuels. Same thing for electricity – we have a grid we can use for electric vehicles.

I am not necessarily bullish or bearish on hydrogen – it will just take time to solve the technology problems. It certainly helps that companies like GM and Toyota are working on the technology.

TrueBlueSchteve15 karma

is the next gen going to be lithium-ion, or something else?

Jeff_Chamberlain30 karma

We scientists have been debating this question with our scientist sponsors in the Department of Energy, and with industry, for many years. I personally realized a couple years ago the question itself is flawed in its implied assumption that there will be a single winner amongst the possible technologies.

The answer to your question is yes and no. Next gen will be lithium ion, and next gen will be other than lithium ion. Depending on the application.

Lithium ion is going to improve at least 2x (maybe 2.5 or 3x) in performance, and decrease in cost by 50% or 60% in the coming years. As such, it's going to be around as a successful technology for a long, long time. Remember that lead acid has been around for over a hundred years, improving all the time. It's actually a great technology. Same thing will happen with lithium ion. And, then new technologies like those we are working on in JCESR will also emerge and be adopted, because they will improve in performance beyond the theoretical limits of Li-ion.

Also, note that lithium ion is not like alkaline or nickel-metal-hydride (NMH) batteries. In the latter two cases, the chemistry set, so to speak, is fairly constant. Lithium ion, on the other hand, can be changed significantly and still fall under the umbrella name "lithium ion." Cathode materials can be changed from cobalt oxide to iron phosphate, and anode can change from carbon to titanium dioxide, and it's still called lithium ion, because that is the ion that shuttles a reative charge back and forth. So, one battery can be used for laptops, and the other for power tools. Point is, lithium ion has room to evolve substantially in the near future.

GChel5 karma

Being that this is such an advance for the future of portability; why hasn't the rich lithium content in Imperial Valley, CA been resourced by anyone?

Jeff_Chamberlain23 karma

The straight answer is that there is A LOT of Lithium in the world. More than some fear-mongers might make you believe. So, my guess (not knowing detail of this particular reserve) is that it currently is not cost-competitive to realize the lithium from this deposit.

As our needs go up, though, many new deposits will become economically viable.

Memphians13 karma

What do you think of the sugar or other organic/enzymatic based batteries?

Lizards_are_cool3 karma


maybe he is not up to date enough by following reddit, i was hoping for an answer to this.

Jeff_Chamberlain8 karma

Well, I am just a little hesitant to bash things. Here's the first comment from the other thread you have linked to:

"Except, if you dig into the research you'll see that it's not a battery at all. It's a sugar fuel cell that requires a constant and steady supply of sugar to function. It also requires a special enzyme that naturally biodegrades, and this enzyme is going to need to be replaced regularly as well. Also it appears that the researcher that developed the enzyme is claiming intellectual property ownership over it. Which means that if you want it, it's going to require buying it from him, rather than being able to make it yourself."

I agree with this. Plus, scalability is a problem.

nitro34011 karma

Are all of your research efforts focused on chemical storage of energy? Do you do any work on the feasibility of large-scale mechanical storage (e.g., elevated ponds, super-cooled magnets supporting rotating mass, etc.)?

Jeff_Chamberlain20 karma

The Joint Center for Energy Storage Research is wholly focused on storage via electrochemistry, and also wholly focused on research for beyond Li-ion technology.

However, there are really great, competitive ways to store energy mechanically. Compressed air, flywheels, and "pumped hydro." The last is pretty much the best for grid storage – you pump water up a hill into a reservoir, and then release it through a dam to spin a turbine. Problem is, the geography has to be right to make it happen (pumped hydro), or, the cost goes through the roof.

Main thing is, though, we are performing research with the aim of technology developments that are cost-competitive with the kind of physical storage you are bringing up. If we can't have the scientific breakthroughs that make electrochemistry more affordable than mechanical methods, then they will win the race.

thebenson11 karma

How has the general decline in public funding for scientific research impacted your research?

How is the government handling patents on the technologies developed at Argonne? Are the patents held by the government or since the research is publicly funded, are the patents in the creative commons?

Jeff_Chamberlain6 karma

Generally in the U.S. such funding has been flat for the past 4 years or so. With inflation, then, that is a net reduction. Our work indirectly does get in the cross-hairs of the partisan politics in Washington.

Regarding patents, we follow the Bayh-Dole legislation. Bayh-Dole says that small companies and non-profits (like Argonne) may elect to hold ownership of title on patents, instead of letting the ownership to revert to the government.

What we do is license our patents, following fairness of opportunity rules, as well as the basic tenets of the America Competes act.

hwalsh019 karma

Do you have any research/designs working toward large grid level storage?

Jeff_Chamberlain11 karma

Yes. The problem of energy storage for vehicles is tangible to the average person, because the average person uses a cell phone and a laptop, and gets the importance of portable energy storage. (E.g., AhhhhH!!! My phone charge is 1%!!) Less obviously tangible is the grid problem. As the grids around the world adopt more and more renewables (wind and solar), we need to store the energy produced by them. Here's why: electricity is an on-demand production cycle for the consumer. The power knob in a coal-fired power plant gets turned up for every light switch turned on, basically. As it is produced, electricity is consumed. Period. (It is the only product I know of that is this way – everything else has a supply buffer. Think Zappos.) Well, we can't turn up the wind or the sun as needed. Not yet, anyway! So, as the percentage of electricity production goes up from renewables, we need to find a way to take electricity being produced when we don't need it and store it. But, to answer your question, yes. It is one of the two main missions of our JCESR research to identify through scientific research how to develop a battery from the materials up that can efficiently store energy from the grid. For an overview see here: Also,

z34L0T7 karma

So many people on Reddit are total naysayers and in absolute LOVE with their fossil fuels, not wanting anything to do with your battery technology. They also claim that batteries are less environmentally friendly than the clunker jalopies they ride around in so proudly. Is there anything you would do or say to turn that tide? Also, another set of arguments I hear all the time goes something like "I'm waiting until the technology becomes feasible." which I find particularly interesting since I use an EV everyday and seems pretty feasible. I also acknowledge that the technology will improve, and that'll be great. But what about the here and now?

Jeff_Chamberlain34 karma

This is something… well, I have thought about this, and even done some of my own simple calculations… The hard truth is that it is way better for the environment to just keep driving your clunker jalopy, when you do the full well-to-wheel calculation. What I mean is, most of the environmental damage, as well as other costs, are sunk in if you are driving, say, a 10 year old F-150. Buying a new car means that you are subsidizing new environmental costs (mining, shipping, energy consumption, etc.). Only when you consider really long-term calculations (in my opinion) do the curves cross and it starts to make sense to replace that old jalopy.

Here's the good news, though. Most people really, really don't like driving old jalopies. They like to buy new, shiny toys. If you are starting with "I am going to buy a car," we are already crossing the curve where it makes environmental sense to buy an electric vehicle. Our work is aimed to cross the economic threshold so that it becomes even more obvious to a consumer buying a vehicle to buy electric.

By the way, the numbers keep going up (not too mention the "cool factor" - see Tesla and BMW):

While these are still small numbers compared to overall vehicle sales, note the constant year-over-year increases as a function of month, as well as the increase in consumer choice over time.

rykh74 karma

Given your area of research do you receive any grief from the oil industry or associated political arenas? If so how and in what ways?

Jeff_Chamberlain4 karma

Not really. In fact, Exxon, Conoco Phillips, and others perform research in battery technology. BP in particular is pretty aggressive in working toward alternative energy. BP has funded an entire center at Berkeley for something like $500M in biofuels (attention tin-foil hatters: the resulting patents can be licensed by others, for the most part). I've participated in workshops held by BP to explore battery technology. When I asked the executives from BP, why in the world are you looking into batteries? Their response: we know something will eventually replace oil, sometime in the next 100 years or so. BP wants to be on the front end of that.

orthodigm3 karma

I'm interested in the differences between batteries that would be used for electric vehicles vs grid storage. What are some of the specific goals or metrics you're seeking to achieve for energy storage for grid and transportation applications? For example, I'm sure the goals for lifetime, power, and battery capacity/battery mass are different in each case.

Jeff_Chamberlain2 karma

The biggest difference is that portable batteries need to be as small and light as possible. And, the round trip efficiency in grid batteries needs to be nearly 100% to be the most cost-effective.

For the grid, size and weight is of less importance. This opens up certain physical and chemical possibilities that are eliminated when considering portable applications.

patrusorin3 karma

You said you are :

working to help America realize a secure, profitable and safe energy future that does not rely on fossil fuels

My question is :

If you make batteries how are you making a "profitable and safe energy future that does not rely on fossil fuels. "? You are just storing energy not creating it.

Jeff_Chamberlain6 karma

Thanks for asking.

If you imagine a grid that is 100% renewables (wind and solar), much of the electricity produced is wasted, because the wind blows at night, for example. If you can store that energy when you don't need to use it right away, it ends up reducing the overall cost of the wind electricity generation.

Likewise in reverse. If you have some energy stored, and the clouds blow over the solar array you are using, or the wind stops blowing, you can use the stored energy as backup. Without this capability, you will always need traditional power plants that you can turn up and down on demand.

Does this make sense? It's getting late and I'm worried I'm rambling. :)

speakeasysk-11 karma

Do you want cold fusion? Are you aware that the United States has stolen $9 trillion of my devoted dollars while spending it on research regarding UFOs which are stolen property that is devoted to me as with the devoted things that Achan stole in the bible and they haven't reached me yet? Are you aware that this is the reason why I, The Lord of Hosts am having Michael command armies of terrorists into attacking this country until justice is served which can only be achieved by giving me my UFOs and $9 trillion for private research under religious freedom and separation of church and state while you defend my right to freedom of religion under the constitution and I am only liable to Jesus and Geoege Washington whom both died, under the first treaty this country signed when we granted your freedom from great Britain, the treaty of watertown?

Jeff_Chamberlain8 karma

Wait, who is "Geoege Washington"? Everything else, I get. But who the heck is the Geoege?