Berkeley Lab Awarded More Than $13M for Electric Vehicle Battery Research

Battery research to be featured at two-day national summit on energy storage challenges

Berkeley Lab has been awarded more than $13 million for five research projects that will accelerate the development of advanced lithium batteries and smart, connected vehicles, making it easier to switch to electric vehicles.

The awards were announced by the Department of Energy and are part of a total of $209 million in battery research projects selected by DOE’s Vehicle Technologies Office. The funding to Berkeley Lab is for a five-year period. Three of the five Berkeley Lab projects are to develop solid state lithium batteries, which have the potential to be safer and have much higher energy density than conventional lithium-ion batteries.

“This is very promising. It’s an enormously important path for the energy storage industry because solid state batteries are both safer – they don’t have highly flammable liquid electrolytes, like today’s lithium-ion batteries do – and will lead to higher energy density,” said Berkeley Lab battery scientist Gerbrand Ceder, the lead scientist on one of the projects. “With conventional lithium-ion batteries we don’t have much of a path left to higher energy density because it’s already almost fully optimized.”

With the new funding Berkeley Lab scientists will investigate better and longer-lasting electrolytes for solid state batteries and new ways to manufacture them. “Making solid state batteries is considerably different from the way lithium-ion batteries are made today,” Ceder said.

The other two projects focus on rapid charging and optimizing cooperative driving automation. "This funding will continue our groundbreaking research on cooperative driving, which develops automated vehicle technologies and operational strategies to minimize energy use and decrease traffic congestion on our roadways," said Tom Kirchstetter, director of Berkeley Lab’s Energy Analysis & Environmental Impacts Division.

DOE has a goal of achieving extreme fast charging, allowing vehicle batteries to be fully charged in less than 15 minutes to be competitive with fossil fuel-powered vehicles. It also has a goal of streamlining cooperative vehicle-to-vehicle communications and controls that reduce the overall energy use and emissions in transportation. 

“It's exciting to see our 100-plus energy storage researchers driving the science and technology of energy storage forward, in partnership with DOE,” said Noel Bakhtian, executive director of Berkeley Lab’s Energy Storage Center. “To catalyze solutions and partnerships around specific challenges to America’s energy storage future we’re convening a national summit on energy storage next March. Our goal for the summit is to connect national and regional thought leaders across industry, government, communities, and the research enterprise on topics from the lithium supply chain to the rapid timeline for deployment needed to reach a clean energy future.”

The National Energy Storage Summit, Jumpstarting America’s Energy Storage Future, will be open to the public and take place March 8-9, 2022.


New Technology Sees Underground to Assess Crop Roots

Berkeley Lab scientists develop an award-winning tool to sense a plant’s hidden half

By Christina Procopiou

For crops or houseplants, shrubs or grasses, the early-warning signs of stress from drought or any other stressor are out of sight, out of mind in the last place anyone ever looks: underground in the plant’s hidden half, or its roots. Still, there’s not yet a way to inspect these roots without digging a plant up and tearing its hidden half to pieces, destroying the plant.

Now Berkeley Lab scientists have developed a new sensing technology to assess crops by “seeing” into the soil while keeping a plant’s roots intact. Tomographic Electrical Rhizosphere Imager (TERI) placed first this month in a Bayer Crop Science Grants4Tech competition that evaluated how novel sensing devices can collect key root trait data, including mass, length, and diameter of important agriculture crops, such as corn and soybean, in the field without disturbing the plant. 

TERI, a project supported by the Department of Energy’s ARPA-E Rhizosphere Observations Optimizing Terrestrial Sequestration (ROOTS) program, functions by sending a small electrical current into the plant stem. The current then travels throughout the root system to non-invasively sense the electrical response of both roots and soil and provide information on these root characteristics. Solutions like TERI are attractive to agricultural companies because they offer the chance to track root growth and health over time to understand how plants adapt to environmental stressors, which can influence crop yield and resilience to a changing climate.  

The Berkeley Lab staff scientist, Yuxin Wu, who led development of TERI said, “Imagine if we could measure these root traits without destroying a plant. That could help us to rethink plant cultivation from an entirely new angle, using an approach based on new knowledge of plant roots rather than merely above-ground traits such as its leaves or cross-pollination characteristics.”   

TERI is a product of the EcoSENSE suite of novel-sensing technologies and capabilities developed at Berkeley Lab to explore plant-soil-microbe interactions across scales.


Improved Earth System Model Could Help Better Predict Impact of Extreme Events 

It’s now possible to see more clearly how trees may respond to wildfire or whether soils will become warmer over time

By Christina Procopiou

This year alone Texas froze over and the Sierra Nevada forests that help sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere burned on and on from the Caldor Fire – two sure signs of the need to better predict extreme events caused by climate change, and the effect these events have on ecosystem services, such as carbon sequestration by plants and soils. 

Doing so requires realistic, high-resolution simulations of environmental changes taking place across oceans, land, and ice generated by Earth system models running on the most powerful, advanced computers. The Department of Energy relies on a new, faster version of the Energy Exascale Earth System Model (E3SM) to help anticipate changes 10, 20, or 50 years from now in factors like regional air and water temperatures that can strain energy grids, and extreme events like wildfires and flooding that could shut down infrastructure.

Berkeley Lab scientists have contributed to improving the land component of the latest release of this model – dubbed E3SM2 – which can now generate more precise simulations twice as fast as before. Berkeley Lab scientist William Riley said the improved representations of processes and interactions taking place across Earth’s land component can help scientists better predict extreme events, and disentangle the many complex factors driving ecosystem dynamics, such as changes in vegetation or carbon cycling.

“The improved land model, new with E3SM2, allows us to depict various factors in finer detail, such as how trees and plants will respond to stressors like drought and wildfire, or whether soils – which have been shown to lose carbon as temperatures rise – will become warmer over time,” said Riley.

If, for example, a plant community were to change from one dominated by large, old-growth trees that sequester a lot of carbon dioxide to one full of shorter shrubs that do not, that would have a big impact on the cycling of carbon between land and air.

“Our group is also pioneering the use of machine-learning approaches for wildfire and methane emissions projections and interpretation of the complex interactions underlying Earth’s surface energy and carbon dynamics, for example soil carbon dynamics,” Riley said.


A ‘BETTER’ Way Forward for Low-Cost, Accessible Retrofits

Taxpayers saved more than $800,000 annually in one case

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Building operations account for a whopping 35% of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions. A free online tool developed by Berkeley Lab with support from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Building Technologies Office (BTO) — the Building Efficiency Targeting Tool for Energy Retrofits (BETTER) — is helping to bring that number down by virtually evaluating buildings for immediate no- and low-cost energy efficiency upgrades.

BETTER eliminates the need for costly in-person initial assessments, and its recommendations for simple energy efficiency improvements allow building owners to immediately cut energy use, cost, and greenhouse gas emissions by 5 to 10% while prioritizing facilities for more in-depth assessments based on their potential for deeper energy savings.

A total of 430 organizations have taken advantage of the tool since its initial release in 2020. A California state agency recently used it to audit 450 buildings, avoiding $3.3 million in in-person audit costs and saving taxpayers more than $800,000 annually.

For Prince William County Public Schools in Virginia, where 40% of students are economically disadvantaged, small changes like reducing equipment schedules saved $77,000 in annual energy costs. In New England, Energy General LLC is leading a grassroots effort using BETTER to identify buildings in underserved neighborhoods that are most in need of renovation.

“BETTER offers a possibility of delivering efficiency retrofits in underserved markets faster and cheaper by orders of magnitude,” said Energy General LLC founder Tom Strumolo.

BETTER also supports the Biden Administration’s goal of a 100% clean energy economy that serves everyone and reduces the energy burdens in underserved and disadvantaged communities.

Read the full article at the Energy Technologies Area website.