The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is pouring $3 million into a new research and development facility that is aimed at improving the efficiency of electric car batteries.

The facility is located at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and according to the DOE, its twin goals are to reduce cost while at the same time increasing power.

image via Ford

It is the nation’s largest open access battery manufacturing R&D facility, the DOE said, and so far battery manufacturers, chemical and materials suppliers, system integrators and original equipment manufacturers have been invited into the lab. ORNL has already established contracts with 8 different battery-related companies.

There is a sore need for improved technology in batteries that will bring down cost and reduce the quantity of materials used in their manufacture.

Batteries are one of the most expensive components in electric cars, in part because of the relative scarcity of some of the materials they are made from.

The batteries contain rare earth metals, which have become increasingly expensive as demand increases. Meanwhile the supply of the metals has come under pressure since China, where 95 percent of them originate, has begun imposing quotas on their exports.

In order to counter this cost car makers like Honda has begun recycling the rare earth metals from old batteries and reintegrating into new ones.

The lab comprises two chambers totaling 1,400 square feet of space.

The chambers themselves contain state-of-the-art battery manufacturing equipment. One of them allows researchers to maintain humidity levels of between 0.5 and 15 percent and features equipment that allows for the mixing of various slurries, stabilization, coating and drying.

In the other chamber the humidity is kept down to almost zero thanks to a dew point of -40 degrees Celsius. The extreme dryness is needed to stop moisture from getting into the battery cells and degrading them.

The maximum capacity of the batteries created on the site is 7 ampere-hours, a size which permits good demonstration capability but needs less material.

“We’re able to integrate advanced material components into a complete battery, analyze how it performs and better understand how to improve it,” Claus Daniel, deputy director of ORNL’s Sustainable Transportation Programs, said in a statement. “With this capability, we can isolate and evaluate a material or process and quantify any advantage that each would provide.”

Daniel said they were moving closer to creating a longer lasting batteries.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory, car batteries
image via Wikimedia Commons

“ORNL’s combination of equipment and expertise allows collaborators to develop and optimize processes, manufacturing schemes, perform diagnostics and maximize yield,” Daniel said. “Working with industry, we’re advancing the field and moving closer to creating a battery that will allow automobiles to travel longer distances on a single charge.”

Funding for the project was provided by DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. UT-Battelle manages ORNL for the Office of Science, the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the U.S.

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