ARPA-E Backs Crazy New EV Battery Schemes

Before House Republicans take it out to a lonely junkyard and put a bullet through its head, the widely praised ARPA-E R&D program is sinking $36 million into solving the electric vehicle range challenge (and its close cousin: cost).

Here’s what’s interesting: With this funding the folks at the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy aren’t backing efforts to make incremental battery density improvements using today’s technologies – instead, they want to “re-envision the total EV battery system.”

ARPA-E wants to make this Chevy Volt batter pack obsolete (image via GM)

ARPA-E wants to make this Chevy Volt battery pack obsolete (image via GM)

The funding is part of an ARPA-E program called “Robust Affordable Next Generation Energy Storage Systems” (which seems to add up to RANGESS but why quibble; they’re calling it RANGE). RANGE was unveiled back in February, and APRA-E this week revealed [PDF] the 22 projects that it believes might help “accelerate widespread EV adoption by dramatically improving driving range and reliability, and by providing low-cost, low-carbon alternatives to today’s vehicles.”

Survey after survey has shown that suspicions about range limitations and the relatively high cost of the vehicles are the major hurdles that electrics face in the market.

The preliminary project awards range from $387,672 to Bettergy of Peekskill, N.Y., which says it’s looking to move beyond lithium-ion solid-state EV battery chemistry and use materials that are both less costly and don’t require the expensive safety architectures needed today, to $4 million to BASF in Michigan, which is taking on the prickly rare earths challenge in nickel-metal hydride batteries.

Rare earths are materials that China, for complicated reasons, has a virtual monopoly on and BASF believes its rare earth-free components could offer both lower cost and improved capacity while maintaining many of the traditional characteristics of NiMH batteries, including simple design, low volume, and long service life.”

“The breadth and volume of technology approaches embodied in the RANGE projects demonstrate ARPA-E’s commitment to transformational innovation,” Deputy Director Cheryl Martin said in a statement. “The success of RANGE battery technologies will reshape our thinking on EV storage and help reduce U.S. dependence on foreign energy sources, decrease emissions and help maintain our technological lead in R&D.”

A full list of the ARPA-E projects being funded through RANGE is available online as a PDF.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

  • Barry Alexander

    Good stuff and this is where government should be putting their money in R and D not in production or loans to various folks. The market can sell those things that have economic value so the government should stay out of that.

  • Mark

    Improving the energy density of EV batteries IS the area of research that will save out country from future oil wars, recession and climate change… Way cheap in the long run, it is smart to bring these new technologies to market and push for vehicles that are 95% efficient instead of using the old 35% efficient gas car.