Posted by: Joe Weber on June 04
In a modern turn on the swords-into-ploughshares theme, the folks who gave us plutonium for the nuclear bomb are now helping put electric cars on the road. Researchers at Argonne National Laboratory on June 3 signed a global licensing agreement with BASF Corp. for the chemical giant to mass-produce and market Argonne’s patented composite cathode materials to battery makers — a deal that could give a big charge to environmentally friendlier cars.
“This licensing agreement has the potential to put the United States several steps closer to reaching President Obama’s goal of having one million plug-in hybrid electric vehicles on the road by 2015,” Argonne Director Eric Isaacs said. A technology-transfer official at the lab added that new batteries based on the Argonne research could hit the market as soon as 2011, powering cars and devices such as cellphones and computers.
The materials developed by Argonne, which will be produced for battery-makers by BASF, can give batteries a 50-100% increase in energy-storage capacity. That can mean longer stretches between changes for small batteries in products such as cellphones and computers. For cars, the potent batteries could deliver far more miles between charges.
The new batteries are expected to be safer and more environmentally friendly, and could be cheaper. Argonne lab tech-transfer executive Jeffrey P. Chamberlain said the new technology would use manganese rich metal oxides, which are readily abundant, rather than the pricey, problematic cobalt common in batteries now. “It’s easy to process and at the same time you get a bigger bang for the buck,” he said.
BASF is planning to set up a plant in hard-pressed Elyria, Ohio, to produce the cathode materials for battery makers. The materials are expected to go into lithium-ion batteries that would be produced by such outfits as LG, a major supplier of batteries for high-tech electronic devices. The chemical outfit, a unit of Germany’s BASF SE, is expecting a DOE grant to help power its Elyria plant.
Argonne, a national lab operated for the Department of Energy by the University of Chicago, got its start in the 1940s. It was born of scientist Enrico Fermi's efforts to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons. Since the end of World War II, it has focused on energy development.
BusinessWeek’s Joe Weber, Patricia O'Connell, Michelle Conlin, Frederik Balfour, Peter Coy, Greg Spielberg and Roger Crockett examine The Case for Optimism by looking past the financial turmoil and economic unrest gripping the globe to focus on the promising future that lies on the other side of this storm. We’ll chronicle the forward thinkers investing in R&D, launching promising new products, entering new markets, or implementing management and leadership.
See why BusinessWeek Editor-In-Chief Stephen J. Adler is optimistic about the economy amid the sharpest downturn since the Great Depression.