Economic Development, Manufacturing, and Technology

Newsmaker: Argonne lab taps Johnson Controls for battery development

January 18, 2013
| By Pete Daly |
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Newsmaker: Argonne lab taps Johnson Controls for battery development
Daimler’s Smart Fortwo Cabriolet electric vehicle runs on a lithium-ion battery. Photo via fb.com

 Editor’s note: The Business Journal is recognizing 10 nominees for its 2012 Newsmaker of the Year Award, based on their long-term economic impact on the region. One nominee will be featured each day on grbj.com — leading up to the Jan. 21 announcement of the 2012 Grand Rapids Business Journal Newsmaker of the Year. 

West Michigan — already an important area in the state for electrical vehicle battery production — accepted an expanded role in advanced battery research with the news from the Department of Energy in late 2012 that a new $120 million multi state research effort led by Argonne National Laboratory will include Johnson Controls in Holland.

The University of Michigan and Dow Chemical Co. in Midland are also part of the new Joint Center for Energy Storage Research, or JCESR, pronounced “J-Caesar,” and will involve five DOE national laboratories, five universities and four private companies.

Other national research labs partnering with Argonne include Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories and SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.

Argonne Labs, based in Lemont, Ill., near Chicago, is “an incredible advanced research center, one of the largest in the world, so for us to have a connection to that kind of horsepower is going to be a pretty exciting economic catalyst,” said Randy Thelen, president of Lakeshore Advantage, an economic development agency in Zeeland.

Two years ago, Lakeshore Advantage began working on a strategy to help promote the addition of advanced battery research to the production “cluster” in West Michigan. LG Chem in Holland is prepared to begin electrical vehicle battery production and Fortu PowerCell GmbH, a German-Swiss company, plans to develop and produce lithium-ion electric vehicle batteries near the Bayer CropScience facility in Muskegon Township.

Thelen said when Argonne put together a grant proposal for submission to the DOE, it knew it wanted to connect its research teams to companies already in the field of electric vehicle batteries “to make sure their research was aligned with what the industry needs were. So it was just natural for them to reach out to us, and invite us to participate.”

JCI, with world headquarters in Milwaukee, is the largest conventional automotive battery maker in North America, and its Holland plant is already producing lithium-ion battery packs for electric vehicles made by Daimler and BMW in Europe.

MaryAnn Wright, vice president of Global Technology and Innovation at JCI, said her company has two roles within JCESR.

“One is to support the science (of advanced battery development) and the second is to get it out of the lab and into the market,” said Wright.

JCESR is expected to stimulate the electric vehicle industry in the U.S.

“Unlike a lot of open ended research and development, this is very time bound,” added Wright, referring to the five-year life of JCESR.

She also mentioned that the goal of JCESR has been succinctly summarized in the slogan “five-five-five:” development of an advanced electric vehicle battery with five times the energy density and power of the existing batteries, costing one-fifth of those and ready in five years.

Successfully developing a cheaper, better battery and getting it into production will “clearly help establish the U.S. as the leader in these advanced technologies, because, you know, we’re in a big race and in competition with the rest of the world — in particular, Asia,” she said.

The University of Michigan said a dozen of its researchers will be part of JCESR “to develop breakthrough batteries for longer range electric vehicles and a power grid that can store electricity from solar and wind energy.” U-M said its portion of the DOE grant is $7 million.

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