An overall view of the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory campus, including the building that sits on top of the longest linear particle accelerator in the world, in Menlo Park, Calif. (Photo: Andy Freeberg and Matt Beardsley/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory)
As the nation moves to an all-electric future, demand is growing for cheaper, better, safer and more sustainable batteries.
A new SLAC-Stanford Battery Center, launched on Thursday, aims to spur research — combining the power of a national lab, top university and Silicon Valley’s tech companies to accelerate the transition away from the fossil fuels that are causing climate change.
“We are looking to make battery technology more robust, with an enhanced life, at an affordable price,” said Jagjit Nanda, the battery center’s executive director, at a conference of scientists and engineers gathered for the announcement.
The center’s three partners — the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, Stanford University and private industry – “will work together for the grand challenge in energy storage,” he said. “This is a very unique ecosystem.”
Each partner will contribute something different. Stanford will provide education and training in chemistry, materials science, engineering and a host of other fields. SLAC’s laboratories will conduct research and “scale up” the most promising results. Private industry will identify market demand, and deploy technologies into the real world.
The world needs more and better batteries. In the U.S., the Biden Administration’s new proposal to cut automotive greenhouse gas pollution in half by 2032 is expected to send electric car sales into overdrive.
To completely decarbonize the world’s transportation systems and electric grids, batteries must be capable of storing several hundred terawatt-hours of sustainably generated energy, according to SLAC. Only about 1% of that capacity is in place today.
Most EVs, laptops and cell phones are powered by lithium-ion batteries, a decades-old technology.
New funding will propel innovation. The Inflation Reduction Act, passed with bipartisan support in 2022, sets aside billions of dollars for EV and battery research and manufacturing.
“We want $20,000 to $25,000 cars to go 350 miles on a battery that charges very rapidly,” said Nobel Laureate and former energy secretary Steven Chu, now a Stanford professor.
The focus of the new center, based at SLAC’s Arrillaga Science Center, will span a vast range of research and development. It aims to better understand the chemical reactions that store energy in electrodes. It will seek to design battery materials at the nanoscale. It also will test and make devices.
At Thursday’s conference, experts encouraged alternatives to today’s key battery materials, such as cobalt and lithium, which must be mined from the ground. Those materials are in short supply, and mining means more pollution and ecological destruction.
In addition, they urged greater research into improvement of so-called solid-state batteries, which pack more energy into a smaller space, and sodium-ion batteries, which aren’t great performers but are cheap.
Manufacturing must be improved, said Nanda. “It’s not enough to make a game-changing battery material in small amounts… We have to understand the manufacturing science needed to make it in larger quantities on a massive scale without compromising on performance.”
Some collaborations are already underway. In one pilot project, Stanford students and postdoctoral researchers worked at two battery labs in SLAC’s Arrillaga Science Center to synthesize battery materials and evaluate different devices.
“There’s no other place in the world,” said Battery Center director Will Chueh, an associate professor at Stanford and faculty scientist at SLAC, “where all of this comes together.”
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