Many of the innovations eyed for advances in consumer electronics, electric vehicles, utilities and advanced manufacturing hinge on the development of next-generation battery technologies.
To feed that growing need and potentially accelerate innovation, the nation’s first and top-tier battery cell fabrication facility has more than tripled its size and expanded its research capabilities.
“We are looking for great new things from this facility. It has already set a high bar,” said Michael Berube, Director of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Vehicle Technologies Office (VTO) at a ribbon cutting ceremony recently for the Cell Analysis, Modeling and Prototyping (CAMP) Facility at the DOE’s Argonne National Laboratory.
“At Argonne, our mission is to accelerate science and technology to drive U.S. prosperity and security,” said Paul Kearns, Argonne Director. “Our multidisciplinary teams work across the entire scientific continuum, turning pivotal discoveries into innovations that will help secure America’s energy future. The CAMP facility is a perfect example. Our success relies on collaborations forged with a range of partners, and we thank the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and its Vehicle Technologies Office for their support of CAMP.”
For the expansion, Argonne invested over $2 million of laboratory funds and royalty money earned from a patent on battery material the lab developed that went into several commercial batteries, including the Chevy Volt. This money leverages the original VTO funding that created CAMP as the nation’s first cell fabrication lab in 2010 and VTO’s new investment to increase the research capabilities in the facility’s new dry room.
“We highly value this successful partnership with Argonne,” Berube said. “Argonne is one of our largest VTO labs and the team continues to deliver innovative, creative and highly valued research results.” CAMP supports not only research at Argonne and also throughout the national laboratory complex and brings a needed capability to the national laboratory system and industry to enable world-leading research.
CAMP serves a pipeline to battery RD programs in industry, academia and at other national laboratories. New battery materials are made into electrodes and small cells or, if warranted, larger pouch cells that are roughly 100 times smaller than the battery in an electric vehicle, but made in a method similar to industry. These cells are tested by researchers at Argonne or sent to other laboratories for use in their RD programs.
The most promising new materials that are validated at CAMP are then sent to Argonne’s Materials Engineering Research Facility to have cost-efficient manufacturing processes developed to commercially scale the material and hand it off to industry to begin production. In the last five years, CAMP has worked with 49 companies, including startups and Fortune 500 companies.
CAMP also is a key supplier of prototype electrodes and cells for several national research programs including Xtreme Fast Charging, Next-Generation Anodes (focus on silicon anodes), Next-Generation Cathodes (focus on low-cobalt cathodes), as well as the U.S. Advanced Battery Consortium, Small Business Innovation Research, Small Business Voucher and Chain Reaction Innovation programs. These research and development groups help industry develop and de-risk battery technologies in collaboration with national laboratories.
One of the key pieces of equipment that will go into the expanded CAMP is a multi-functional coater to test and develop new electrode-separator designs needed for solid-state lithium battery systems. This technology has been long sought after and would be considered a game changer for the energy storage industry because the technology would enable higher energy density, increase battery life and reduce the risk of fires from overheating.
“We had to limit the amount of work that we could do with outside collaborators and inside collaborators because of limited space,” said Andrew Jansen, a senior chemical engineer who oversees the CAMP staff. “The expansion allows us to work with more DOE programs to get them the battery test materials, such as electrodes and pouch cells, that they need to work toward their goals of higher energy density, faster charging and increased safety, often without the use of rare earth materials.”