Energy storage becomes a more and more important issue for the US Department of Energy every year. This is connected, in more than one way, to electric cars. Not only are these seen as a way to curb greenhouse gas emissions, but an end to our reliance on foreign oil would come along as a bonus if we could crack the technology to make the electric car viable. Up until now, the burden for advancing the necessary battery technology has been on private companies, but that is about to change. According to a report in Computer World, the DoE is now setting up six national labs where researchers from both Universities and private firms can pool research in the hopes of speeding up the process of battery evolution.
The idea is actually similar to how the Manhattan Project sped of research on the atom bomb during the Second World War. The project will cost $120 million over the next five years, but this is really quite cheap when compared to what has been loaned out by the DoE for battery research to individual firms so far. But even though this method is both cost effective and likely to move the technology forward at a faster rate, the goals set by the DoE are quite ambitious. Their plan is to make batteries five times more powerful as well as five times cheaper within the next five years. Battery technology has never even come close to advancing at that kind of pace, so one has to wonder how they plan to achieve this.
To start with, the plan is to develop a new kind of battery, as the incremental evolution we have seen so far is obviously moving too slow. But some battery researchers have said that this approach is part of the reason why battery research is as difficult as it is. While those working with circuitry in electronics have been working with the same materials for decades, batteries keep getting new materials, each adopted in turn as the new way forward. That means the evolutionary process has to start all over again every few years, and that evolution is very slow and difficult. But with our top scientific minds on the case, hopefully this cycle can be broken and we can take those bigger steps forward.