Argonne National Laboratory near Downers Grove is going to be where the next great battery is invented. This is the plan announced by the U.S. Department of Energy, pulling together the government, five universities and four private companies that have been working separately on battery technology.

Argonne Director Eric Isaacs says what they want to do is develop a battery within five years that’s five times more powerful than today’s batteries, at one-fifth the cost. “That’s a very aggressive, very ambitious goal, but it’s what we have to do. A factor of two is great. It can be engineered and we’re gonna work on that, that’ll be the milestones along the way, but really factors of five are what we need to transform both the power grid and transportation,” he said.

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Better batteries, he says, will allow for battery-operated vehicles to be more cost-competitive with gasoline-powered vehicles and more convenient in terms of range, and they would allow electricity customers to store electricity delivered at off-peak hours, or from wind and solar installations, for use as needed.

The worldwide market for rechargeable batteries is now worth $42 billion, and it’s growing at 8 percent per year, so there is money to be made, and this project aims to get the new technology that’s developed into the marketplace as swiftly as possible.

The universities involved are the University of Illinois at Champaign, the University of Illinois at Chicago, the University of Chicago (which runs Argonne National Laboratory for the Department of Energy), Northwestern University and the University of Michigan.

The federal government is committing $120 million to this effort. The state is committing $35 million.

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