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Berkeley: Scientific collaboration seeks ultimate battery

BERKELEY — Venkat Srinivasan, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory staff scientist and director of batteries, drives a nonelectric, non-hybrid Subaru.

Within the next decade, he expects advancements made at the Berkeley lab in transportation technology will mean his son — born last year and the reason his second car is not a Prius, like his wife’s — will not face a similar compromise.

“We needed a back seat, with liberal space for grandparents,” the 40-year-old Pleasanton resident said. “The hybrids have no trunk space for a stroller and Tesla’s are too expensive.”

Even if he could afford Tesla’s $70,000 electric car, his daily 70-mile commute would mean recharging every 300 miles.

Despite the substantial strides in lithium-ion technology since 1991 (the batteries’ energy density has quadrupled), the batteries of electric and hybrid cars average 150 watt-hours per kilogram. Gasoline destroys batteries’ numbers with 12,000 watt-hours.

Srinivasan said jump-starting battery and energy storage research requires a major push in three categories: Developing new materials, streamlining lab-to marketplace processes, and preventing off-shoring of jobs with incentives to quickly reach automation and reduce labor costs.

Two initiatives have Srinivasan believing he and his colleagues are poised to soon eclipse the area’s “Silicon Valley” moniker with “Battery Bay.”

LBNL is one of five universities and four private firms selected in 2012 by the federal Department of Energy for its Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR), led by Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago.

The funding award of up to $120 million establishes LBNL’s Batteries and Energy Storage Hub.

Srinivasan said the hub is charged with making new materials and is using a genomic approach. This means breaking down existing materials to their smallest, “nano” states, building synthetic elements not found on the periodic table, and crafting millions of computer models — often including robotics to quickly test new combinations — instead of using old-fashioned, slow-moving “cook and look” experimentation.
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