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Posted on Fri, Nov 30, 2012 : 12:07 p.m.

University of Michigan researchers part of $120 million effort to develop better solar and wind-powered batteries

By Kellie Woodhouse

University of Michigan is collaborating with the U.S. Department of Energy in a multimillion dollar project to develop batteries that can store electricity generated from solar and wind energy.


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The batteries could be used to power electric vehicles with longer ranges than currently possible or entire power grids.

U-M has received a $7 million portion of the $120 million, five-year project, which is being run through the newly established Joint Center for Energy Storage Research, one of several innovation hubs within the energy department.

"This hub is aimed at breakthroughs in battery technology for energy storage," Michigan Energy Institute Mark Barteau said in a statement. "Step-out advances are needed to reach the energy densities desired for both automotive and grid storage applications."

The project will further advances on electric and hybrid cars.

"Advanced battery technologies can and will play an increasingly valuable role in strengthening America’s energy and economic security by reducing our oil dependence, upgrading our aging power grid, and allowing us to take greater advantage of intermittent energy sources like wind and solar," said U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu.

U-M is one of five colleges, five DOE national laboratories and four private firms involved. Northwestern University, University of Chicago, University of Illinois-Chicago and University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign also are collaborating on the project, as is Dow Chemical Company; Applied Materials, Inc.; Johnson Controls, Inc.; and Clean Energy Trust.

The following U-M professors will be involved in related research:

  • Levi Thompson, the Richard E. Balzhiser Collegiate Professor of Chemical Engineering, director of the Hydrogen Energy Technology Laboratory and professor of chemical engineering and mechanical engineering
  • Bart Bartlett, assistant professor of chemistry in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts
  • Charles Monroe, assistant professor of chemical engineering
  • Melanie Sanford, the Moses Gomberg Collegiate Professor of Chemistry in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts
  • Emmanuelle Marquis, Dow Corning Assistant Professor of Materials Science and Engineering
  • Johannes Schwank, the James and Judith Street Professor of Chemical Engineering
  • Alice Eleanor Sylvia Sleightholme, assistant research scientist in chemical engineering
  • Donald Siegel, assistant professor of mechanical engineering
  • Katsuyo Thornton, associate professor of materials science and engineering
  • Anton van der Ven, associate professor of materials science and engineering
  • Jyoti Mazumder, professor of materials science and engineering
  • Jack Hu, the J. Reid and Polly Anderson Professor of Manufacturing Technology, associate dean for academic affairs in the College of Engineering and professor of mechanical engineering, as well as industrial and operations engineering

Kellie Woodhouse covers higher education for Reach her at or 734-623-4602 and follow her on twitter.



Sun, Dec 2, 2012 : 5:19 p.m.

"A breakthrough in battery technology would have major implications for the auto, wind and solar industries. In particular, the wind and solar industries are looking for affordable batteries to store intermittent power so they can provide power even when the wind isn't blowing or the sun isn't shining." Chicago Tribune ..except that all the industries listed are going BANKRUPT because the market has REJECTED THEM. THEY SOLVE A PROBLEM THAT DOES NOT EXIST. Again – what is behind this bs? Coal, nuclear and natural gas power plants provide all the power we need now at low cost. WHY DO WE NEED HIGH COST POWER??? In the future, new coal and nuclear pants will do so even more efficiently with even less waste products. The only obstruction to that is…..drum roll….DEMOCRATS. Wind and solar are over priced boutique sources that nobody needs. Not only is there a huge first cost to these systems, but they are expensive to maintain. Photovoltaic solar also has the wonderful feature of power production DROP OFF after about 10 years!! So not only to we spend huge money up front, but if FAILS QUICKLY. If windmills are not maintained at about $10,000 per year each, they burn up. Instead of always "taking the government's money", why aren't academics asking why we need to replace low cost power with an artificial market of high cost power? We know the press won't do it as they goose step along side their dear leader.


Sun, Dec 2, 2012 : 3:46 p.m.

The Chicago papers this morning interestingly laid out what this project hopes to achieve. The goal is to quintuple battery capacity and reduce battery cost by 80 percent. Success might mean customers could begin to use DTE like a pizzeria with home delivery, to be called upon only at the customer's convenience. A cheap durable good partially supplanting expensive existing technology holds enormous potential benefit for end users.


Sun, Dec 2, 2012 : 5:35 p.m.

DTE like a home delivered pizza? What? A home/business is either connected to the grid or it's not. The only variable battery could address it time, but that is hardly relevant. Putting "cheap" high power batteries into connected "houses" is a moronic idea on every level. Are the same people crying about miniscule amounts of nuclear waste concerned about the cost, hazards and waste of hundreds of millions of spent batteries!? "A cheap durable good partially supplanting expensive existing technology holds enormous potential benefit for end users." WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT? This is another farce promoted by clueless eco hysterics and grant sucking liars stuffing their pockets with money borrowed from the Chinese that will be paid back by your grand children!! The result is massive amounts of your money wasted in the pursuit of technological illusions. Like everything obama supports, these programs have the ability to take unlimited amounts of taxpayer money and yield ZERO RESULTS other then the continued decline of America.


Sat, Dec 1, 2012 : 6:50 p.m.

I sympathize with any senior university researcher who must rely on government grant funding to keep the doors open. At that point politics and science have to agree on priorities. Here we find what is commonly referred to as a "scientific dark age" as corrupt politicians demand that our best intellectual talent waste their lives studying nonsense. To join the game, you need only ask WHY? Of all the topics in the world that could be studied, why does anyone getting a grant to study batteries as those companies who produce them go bankrupt? Are they bankrupt because their products are not good enough or because there is simply no market for them in a free market economy? The answers are both up and down stream. Up stream as our slow witted president thinks the car you drive (or how you heat your home this winter) controls the planet's weather, gibberish that dovetails nicely with his need for government control over the "producers". To reporters, this is a fashion statement their friends told them over a frappuccino at Starbucks – "we're, like, into the, like, the environment and just looove the Government! Why do we even need the First Amendment?" Giggles. Our socialist king has simply put his heavy wax government seal to parchment and declared a market that does not exist and now directed more study of a black hole. Down stream, those who need to get paid regardless, are only too happy to tell government hacks anything they want to hear to get those tax dollars flowing into the university. The result is the continued decline of America as money we don't have and intellectual talent we do have is wasted. Multiply this case hundreds of times and things keep getting uglier in America. You fools elected him so you deserve him.

Joe Kidd

Sat, Dec 1, 2012 : 12:47 a.m.

I object less to federal dollars spent on research conducted in universities than subsidies given to sure to fail businesses. What I really want to know is, how likely is it that an electric car will ever reach the efficiency of a gasoline powered car? Will electric ever be as powerful, be recharged as quickly as a car can be refueled, or be less expensive than what electric cars are. And if a battery goes dead, i.e., no longer rechargeable, how much will a new battery cost? Ironically, these batteries are now best built with lithium, a natural element mined globally and in the US. Sound familiar? Will the cost of lithium come down? Will foreign lithium producing countries form an Organization of Lithium Exporting Countries (OLEC) and attempt to control the flow of lithium? Also note that lithium is popular in many different products. Regular batteries and batteries for a variety of hand tools, etc., something we do not see with gasoline. Thus I wonder if it is worth in the long run to spend billions on this. U research ok, no more business subsidies.


Sat, Dec 1, 2012 : 4:01 p.m.

I have no comment on the research monies, except I believe if people want to claim right, title and property interest in inventions - they'd better use their own money, facilities and absorb the losses personally, claiming the fruits without taking the risks is obscene. As to the battery questions, it will be done - eventually, but not following the path we're on. Throwing money at the wall will never succeed economically. Efficiency is easily the electric's strong point compared to ICEs. The best ICE can ever hope to achieve is 68% theoretical efficiency, in practice they're lucky to reach 30% - that's like dumping two gallons of gas on the ground for every effective gallon. And that doesn't take into account the fuel used to find, recover, transport and produce the gasoline. Not efficient at all. Power is relative, and at the moment, an electric car can out-drag race the best of the ICE sports cars, but electric is best at low end torque - at high speed the ICE may outperform electric. Can they outperform a large diesel tractor or bulldozer? No, and it's not likely to happen. As far as recharging goes, the infrastructure needs to facilitate quick-swapping batteries instead of recharging in the vehicle. Owners would pay an initial cost for the battery at vehicle purchase, but would own merely a license to use it - ownership would belong to a third part. When a recharge is needed, batteries would be swapped and there would be a bill for the battery use and for the electricity used. The use charge would be based on the battery cost amortized over, say 10,000 charges. There's no room here to flesh it out, but it's very workable and probable to be done, but it won't be done by universities or those with a significant vested interest in the ICE engine - which is a trillion dollar or so industry.


Fri, Nov 30, 2012 : 11:29 p.m.

Batteries will never be able to handle the power requirements of a power grid, have no real life, and are toxic. The answer is in pumping reservoirs.


Sun, Dec 2, 2012 : 4:03 p.m.

Some other famous predictions: --There was no need for and it is too expensive to build transcontinental railroads. --Steampowered ships will never be able to cross the ocean because they cannot carry enough coal. --Aircraft are so mechanically unreliable as to be unusable for transportation --Computers are large and so expensive that they will never be available for individual use. --The construction of an electrical grid will be so expensive that electricity will never be available outside of relatively large metropolitan areas. The development of new technology rendered silly such statements and, more often than not, that technology was developed with government money. Thank God, in our past, there were people who understood the importance of government investment in technological development.


Fri, Nov 30, 2012 : 7:01 p.m.

I wonder if they've tried flux capacitors.


Fri, Nov 30, 2012 : 5:37 p.m.

The public sector, so often unfairly criticized for not being innovative, is the main driving force behind developing new and more sustainable sources of energy.


Fri, Nov 30, 2012 : 5:25 p.m.

Based on results to date, I do not know if it is a good idea to partner with the US Government to develop anything in light of A123's bankruptcy, Solyndra's bankruptcy, etc.


Sun, Dec 2, 2012 : 4:39 p.m.

"It's about keeping the money within the circle of friends." Sort of like the $7 billion in no-bid contracts the Bush administration gave to Halliburton? The difference between the two is that Solyndra, in execution of its funding. Didn't kill any American servicemen.


Sat, Dec 1, 2012 : 3:33 p.m.

By siphoned off I mean consumed by administrative and overhead costs. A clear example is back in 2002 or so when Gov. Grandholm proposed cutting the life-sciences research funding for Pfizer from 58 million dollars to 26 million. Pfizer went through roof, complaining that 26 million wouldn't even make it worthwhile to them to set up an accounting system for it. In the end, of course, the state coughed up 250 million as Pfizer began their acquisitions of other pharmaceutical research facilities and closings those facilities in the state, transferring research costs to taxpayers via university research. And when venture money comes in, the goal is not to make viable products but, rather, to give the appearance of an attractive company to sell, generating a large profit for people who care not a whit about actually building viable, sustainable companies. It's about keeping the money within the circle of friends.

Joe Kidd

Sat, Dec 1, 2012 : 12:38 a.m.

Dcam, can you expand on that? The siphoning thing? First I have heard of this. My understanding is that the companies failed because they could not produce a viable product. Bhall, how does a bankrupt company return 99% of the money given to it?


Fri, Nov 30, 2012 : 6:41 p.m.

About one percent of the loans to companies through that program are unrecoverable. Not a bad rate.


Fri, Nov 30, 2012 : 6:37 p.m.

There's a big difference between subsidized loans to private companies and federal funding of fundamental research.


Fri, Nov 30, 2012 : 5:55 p.m.

All failures and costs are not because of the governemnt, but because the government gave the money to those researchers and businesses who siphoned it and failed. It's an endless cycle that occurs when the pain of failure is on someone else's credit card without penelty.