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Science and Technology

Jumpstarting car battery research

By 2015 President Obama has said he wants to have one-million plug-in electric vehicles on the road. It’s unclear if that’s going to happen. But slowly researchers are making progress in building a better battery and states are realizing the battery market is a very lucrative one.

This month Ohio State's Buckeye Bullet is trying to break the 400 mph barrier in the salt flats of Utah. It runs on lithium-ion batteries. This is an earlier video when the futuristic car was hitting speeds in the 300s.


“There’s obviously nothing that applies to a consumer ready vehicle, but we’re kind of right there at the edge of the state of the art of pushing the limits as to what electric vehicles may be capable of and with that batteries.”

Nick Warner, quoted above, is the Center for Automotive Research Battery Lab Manager and agrees some of the most exciting changes right now in the automotive sector are coming from the battery industry. He's working on making batteries last longer. Another department at Ohio State is trying to change the chemistry.

It was less than a year ago that BASF opened a lithium-ion battery production plant in Elyria. Laboratories are close by.  Earlier this month the Department of Energy announced funding for a new program at Argonne National Lab, outside Chicago. Range, as it’s called, is designed to change the chemistry of the battery and the architecture of the electric vehicle. The Christian Science Monitor reports it will invest in early stage projects.

The State of Kentucky has a similar approach. It is also affiliated with Argonne labs, has opened the Kentucky Argonne Battery Research and Development Center, and is recruiting small companies.  This month it landed its first major tenant. NOHMS Technologies originally started at Cornell University.

Executive Director Tony Hancock says the idea for the battery research center came from the governor and the energy secretary who wanted to develop something that would be a game-changer. “Turns out the State of Kentucky lies squarely in the automotive corridor and what we would like to see is for Kentucky to growing this area of technology and if we have our way we’d like to be at the very center of the hub for battery technology of the future.”

The Center, located in Lexington, has been open for a year now with 12,000 square feet of battery research space and a 2,000 square foot dry room, open to any company who wants to use it and pay for the time there. Hancock believes the advancements are going to come from smaller companies, even though Kentucky has some big partners.

  • Ford
  • Toyota
  • Honda
  • Hitachi

Kentucky is also partnering with Indiana, Tennessee and Ohio in its research. The payoff could be billions.