Plugging in battery makers and battery innovators


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    Venkat Srinivasan at the Lawrence Berkeley Lab

    - Lawrence Berkeley Lab

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    Lawrence Berkeley Lab

    - Courtesy of the Lawrence Berkely Lab

If you were to make a list of the top five products that will play a prominent role in our future, the battery would definitely be at the top. Batteries power our devices, our cars will increasingly rely on them, and they are a fundamental component in renewable energy grids.

In Berkeley, California, scientists are experimenting with new ways to make safer, more efficient batteries. At the same time, angel investors are experimenting with new ways of connecting those scientists with companies that can get those batteries into the market.

About 10 years ago, when scientists were trying to invent new kinds of batteries, they often used a method called "cook and look." 

“So you go cook a material up, take a bunch of compounds, heat it up to very high temperature, and you will then go make a battery with it and you’ll go look  and see if that battery worked the way you would expect it to work,” said Venkat Srinivasan, head of the Energy Storage and Distributed Resources Department at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Srinivasan says today his lab uses computers to identify new materials. As a result he can produce quicker results. But turning those results into tangible products is a slow process.  “Going from the lab to the market can take as much as 10 years in the battery space," he says. "And that bottleneck in going from lab to market is what we are trying to solve with CalCharge.

CalCharge is a consortium of companies, universities, laboratories and unions. It was created by CalCEF, the *California Clean Energy Fund, which provides seed money to startups in the clean energy field.

CalCEF spent two years studying the process of innovation in the battery industry and found multiple bottlenecks. Labs need more trained scientists. Additional skilled workers are needed to install new technologies when they do get to market and, although the national labs are mandated by Congress to produce practical technology for the private sector, they are burdened by complex regulations.

“For an individual company that wanted to work with a national lab to do cooperative research, it could take between six and nine months easily for a company to negotiate a single project, and that’s just untenable for most companies,” said CalCEF managing director Jeff Anderson.

CalCharge was created to help streamline that process. It connects energy storage companies with the national labs. It also worked with San Jose State University to create a Master of Science program that focuses on battery technologies.

CalCharge gets its base funding from companies that pay annual dues to join the consortium. In the eight weeks since CalCharge officially launched, several companies including Duracell, Volkswagen and LG, have signed on as members.


*CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article misstated the full name of the organization CalCEF. It is the California Clean Energy Fund. The text has been corrected.

About the author

David Weinberg is a general assignment reporter at Marketplace.

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