The Department of Energy’s Innovation in GM’s Chevrolet Volt

Last Thursday was a big day in the world of advanced lithium ion batteries for electric vehicles.

On January 6, the Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory announced that General Motors and its battery cell supplier, LG Chem Power Inc., have each signed licensing agreements to use Argonne’s breakthrough battery technology.

Funded by the Department, scientists at Argonne have developed a unique suite of cathode materials –- a ‘family’ of lithium-rich and manganese-rich mixed-metal oxides -– can pack 50-100% more energy into the same space used by conventional cathode materials, resulting in much smaller and lighter battery cells and potentially lower cost batteries.

The commercialization of this lithium ion batteries technology for electric cars is an example of how the Department and our national laboratories are promoting clean energy innovation, and working to move new technologies from the lab to the marketplace.

From early basic research to technology development, our work is helping to significantly reduce the cost of lithium ion batteries. As a result, automakers and battery manufacturers will be able to increase the driving range and lower the cost of electric vehicles.

In addition, the Recovery Act is laying the foundation for a strong U.S. advanced battery manufacturing industry –- creating jobs and positioning the U.S. to compete and lead in this growing field. The US is rapidly increasing our production capacity of advanced lithium ion batteries, and by 2015 will be able to produce enough batteries to supply up to 500,000 electric vehicles per year.

The Department has invested in advanced battery R&D for more than a decade — $400 million total — and today we are seeing early returns on our investments. With very few exceptions, the battery technologies in almost all of the electric vehicles and hybrids on the road today were developed with support from the Department.

Our mission is to build on this success – we still have work to do to bring down costs and improve battery performance. Yet the message signaled by Thursday’s licensing agreements is clear: Department of Energy innovation is helping drive advanced battery breakthroughs. And by partnering with the private sector, we are helping drive economic growth.

By Patrick Davis, Director of the Vehicle Technologies Program,