Mr. Owens said he would discuss the battery initiative at the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) for electric drive vehicles, and refer as well to other programs within DoE and other agencies that encourage development of complementary technologies, such as motors and power electronics.
The DoE had been investing in battery technology for more than 30 years, he said, with improved technology and rising funding for 20 years. The budget for 2010 was $76 million; the request for 2011 was $96 million, and the request for 2012 was $140 million. The goal for 2014 was to reduce the production cost of a plug-in electric vehicle (PHEV) battery to $300/kilowatt-hour (kWh), 70 percent below current cost.
Mr. Owens suggested that the DoE’s two decades of investment may be responsible for the current hybrid vehicle industry. Until this year, he said, all the hybrids on the roads of the United States contained IP developed and owned by the DoE. “We’ve continued to invest in the newer lithium-ion technology,” he said, “and we see that technology as well reaching the marketplace. So between the nickel metal hydride batteries that came out of DoE funding and the lithium-ion technology, we see spillovers from our R&D programs directly into the marketplace.”
The DoE battery technology program extends from basic research on fundamental electrochemistry through battery cell development, battery pack development, and, more recently, full-system development and support for commercialization. “This range of program and sustained support are reasons it’s been so effective over the years,” he said.
The research programs are driven by specific performance goals for batteries. Depending on whether the goal is a conventional hybrid; plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) with some form of range extension, like the Chevy Volt; or an all-electric vehicle, the requirements for the batteries—and therefore the technology—are different. “I don’t mean you have to meet all these goals to commercialize the batteries,” he said, “because some of them in vehicles today don’t meet the goals. But having a set of goals provides a way to measure achievement and focus development—not only within the research community, but also for the potential battery manufacturers. Then they understand where they need to go.”
Battery price is a critical issue for successful electric drive vehicles, he said, and it is too high. A few years ago batteries for hybrids cost $1,000 to $1,200 a kWh; today the price is about $600 to $700 per kWh. The DoE’s short-term goal is to reach $300 by 2014, and ultimately $150. “Just large-scale production in large plants at higher volumes will not bring the cost to these levels,” he said. “What’s needed is improved technology with less but higher-