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Hybrid Battery Technology by DOE Is Exported to Japan Manufacturer

DOE's Argonne Lab sells America's cutting edge battery technology to Japan

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Japanese Company Licenses Hybrid-electric Battery Technology Funded with American Tax Dollars

The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory and Toda Kogyo Corp. (Toda) of Japan have reached a world-wide licensing agreement for the commercial production and sales of Argonne’s patented composite cathode materials for lithium-ion batteries, which result in longer-lasting, safer batteries for hybrid-electric vehicles, cell phones, laptop computers and other applications.

"Our agreement with Toda Kogyo is an important step toward bringing to market key advanced lithium-ion battery technologies that are being developed here at Argonne with funding from the U.S. Department of Energy," Gary Henriksen, Manager of the Electrochemical Energy Storage Department at Argonne, said.

Lithium-ion Batteries

"The technologies being licensed will enhance the performance, life and inherent safety of lithium-ion cells compared to those that employ the cobalt-based cathode technology that has dominated the market since the introduction of lithium-ion batteries in 1990."

This cathode technology is part of a large and diverse portfolio of lithium-ion battery inventions and patents developed at Argonne. Funded primarily by DOE’s Office of Vehicle Technologies, the scientists and engineers at Argonne have developed numerous technologies for improving the life, safety and performance of lithium-ion batteries, including several types of more stable advanced cathode and anode materials for higher power or higher energy storage applications and electrolyte systems that further stabilize the electrode/electrolyte interfaces.

DOE Intellectual Property Commercialization

This licensing agreement is integral to DOE’s commercialization efforts, which includes a full spectrum of activities required to rapidly move a new technology, product, or process from its conceptual stage to the marketplace.

With over 180 years of experience manufacturing and supplying high-performance materials in various markets, Toda Kogyo Corp. has established itself as a respected supplier of materials in the lithium ion and nickel-metal hydride battery markets.

In addition to plants in Japan, Toda recently acquired a plant in the Detroit area that will help Toda serve U.S. automobile manufacturers. Toda Advanced Materials Inc. in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada produces cathode materials and their precursors for lithium-ion and nickel metal hydride batteries with a combined annual production capacity of 4,000 metric tons.

Are we selling the family jewels?

"Government R&D funding for advanced vehicles should better reflect the likelihood of success. A sustained effort to develop domestic battery manufacturing capability will be equally important. Ultimately, we have not accomplished much if we transfer a dependence on imported oil, for an addiction to foreign batteries," testified Argonne's Don Hillebrand before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development (Feb. 14, 2008).

US Leads Battery Innovation...Lags in Manufacturing

Hillebrand noted that while the United States is the dominant player in the development of battery materials and chemistries for hybrid vehicles and Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEV) with the help of progressive research conducted at U.S. Department of Energy national laboratories, including Argonne, the nation lags behind the world in adopting capabilities to make such batteries.

American Manufacturers Move Factories to China

Indeed, while "DOE battery research programs have spawned small businesses and pushed applied development of promising battery chemistries to a high level," Hillebrand pointed out that, "… many small American battery companies plan to build their factories in China." The reason, he explained, is that the United States does not have the high-volume battery manufacturing know-how. But that kind of capability can be developed over time, Hillebrand said.

80% of US Hybrid Market Made and Sold by Japan

Overseas battery makers "have marked advantages based on the large investments they have made in manufacturing," he explained. Toyota, for example, has made significant investments in acquiring the ability to develop and make batteries, and studies show that the Japanese automaker doles out one-third less for its batteries compared to U.S. companies, Hillebrand said. Japan's automakers dominate the hybrid market; they make and sell more than 80 percent of the hybrids now sold in the United States, he said.

Aside from manufacturing, the safety and cost of lithium ion battery technologies are of greatest concern, he said. Hillebrand is confident the safety issues can be resolved, but said that battery cost range — estimated to be between $3,000 and $12,000 for a 40-mile plug-in battery — is the limiting factor to PHEV introduction.

Tough Questions to Face About American Competitiveness

Is this export of tax-subsidized research cost effective in the long term for American business sustainability? Where are the American manufacturers who could license this American-subsidized intellectual property? Did they bid on this technology transfer? What ratio of revenue to research investment dollar needs to be achieved to make exporting of our intellectual property sustainable for our economy?

On the Argone website, it states, "Industrial technology development is an important activity in moving benefits of Argonne's publicly funded research to industry to help strengthen the nation's technology base."

Today, the laboratory has about 2,800 employees, including about 1,000 scientists and engineers, of whom about 750 hold doctorate degrees. Argonne's annual operating budget of about $530 million supports upwards of 200 research projects, ranging from studies of the atomic nucleus to global climate change research. Since 1990, Argonne has worked with more than 600 companies and numerous federal agencies and other organizations.

About Argonne Natinal Laboratory

Argonne National Laboratory brings the world’s brightest scientists and engineers together to find exciting and creative new solutions to pressing national problems in science and technology.

The nation’s first national laboratory, Argonne conducts leading-edge basic and applied scientific research in virtually every scientific discipline. Argonne researchers work closely with researchers from hundreds of companies, universities, and federal, state and municipal agencies to help them solve their specific problems, advance America’s scientific leadership and prepare the nation for a better future. With employees from more than 60 nations, Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science.

Argonne's Division of Educational Programs provides a wide range of educational opportunities for faculty and students ranging from leading national universities to local junior high schools. More people attend educational programs at Argonne than at any other DOE national laboratory.

Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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