Strength in numbers: CalCharge battery consortium

Strength in numbers

A new public-private consortium, seeks to leverage the academic foundation and fertile entrepreneurial ground of the Bay Area to streamline new battery technology development.

 

CalCharge, a new public-private consortium, seeks to leverage the academic foundation and fertile entrepreneurial ground of the Bay Area to streamline new battery technology development.

For a small start-up battery company struggling to get its ideas out to an emerging market, it can feel a bit like trying to jumpstart an entire industry with the power of a single cell.

Luckily, out in the California Bay Area, the energy density of the rechargeable battery industry is growing thicker than the fog that swallows up the Golden Gate Bridge on a near-nightly basis. From 2008 to 2010, 258 battery patent filings came from California, more than the next three leading states combined, according to Next 10’s 2012 California Green Innovation Index. Venture capital support for energy storage in California also rocketed up thirteen-fold from 2010 to 2011, making up 11 percent of total clean tech VC funding in the state.

Now, the more than 30 startups and larger battery innovation companies in the Bay Area have another pillar of support on which to lean. At the end of May, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and California Clean Energy Fund (CalCEF), banded together to form CalCharge, a unique public/private consortium that will give paying member companies access to the world-class facilities and personnel of Berkeley Lab with the intention of accelerating the timeline of energy storage innovation in batteries for electric and hybrid vehicles, consumer electronics and the electric grid. 

LABS FOR HIRE

CalCharge will give member companies easy access to Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs) and other arrangements that will lend the companies the services of Berkeley Lab’s highly respected battery scientists, as well as state-of-the-art testing and diagnostics equipment that they otherwise might not have access to. Degrees of access will depend on a company’s membership level, which will cost an annual fee of $10,000, $25,000, or $50,000.

CalCharge will support the entire field of battery technology companies, but Venkat Srinivasan, head of Berkeley Lab’s energy storage research program, highlights some points of interest specific to EV battery companies. “Berkeley Lab’s battery program is known all over the world for its expertise in developing the next-generation batteries for electric, plug-in hybrid, and hybrid cars,” Srinivasan says. “We are also one of the few ARPA-E awardees for developing batteries for grid storage applications.”

A ROLE FOR ALL PLAYERS

Srinivasan also emphasized the importance of CalCharge building an ecosystem for the battery business in Northern California, a recurring concept in conversations with Berkeley Lab and CalCEF. This ecosystem would include interaction and cooperation among academic, private, and government organizations, with CalCharge helping with workforce training and market education in addition to its technical services for businesses.

While CalCharge can’t force local governments’ hands when it comes to policies supporting battery energy storage, its founders hope to educate and influence government toward that end. “We hope that CalCharge can help local governments understand and plan for energy storage as an industry, and as an energy management resource,” says Douglas Davenport, co-lead of the CalCharge initiative at Berkeley Lab. Davenport is also the contact for companies inquiring about CalCharge membership.

Government has certainly had a hand in mandating deadlines for the EV industry, and CalCharge’s progenitors would like to do whatever’s possible to help meet or beat those deadlines. For example, there’s the federal call to put one million EVs on the road by 2015. And early this year, California approved Advanced Clean Car Rules, among which is a 34 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions to 2016 levels by 2025.

Dan Adler, president of CalCEF, thinks such mandates really depend on auto manufacturers’ willingness to commit to EV technology and emissions reductions. But CalCharge should be able to contribute to the progress nonetheless. “To the extent that we can accelerate that process with science,” he says, “we can shorten the time frame under which, technologically, these batteries are ready to scale. We’re focusing on technology first, initiating the markets where we can, and proving the technical case on the theory that once the tech is proven, the markets will transition quicker.”

With CalCharge currently establishing a roster of founding members and sponsors, Davenport says there will be member announcements soon that will reflect the strong early interest in the consortium. Adler is also confident in the CalCharge’s early momentum. “It’s a pretty robust community here in the Bay Area,” Adler says. “We’re thinking we can attract a substantial component of it.”

Photos by Roy Kaltschmidt, courtesy of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

Issue: JUN/JUL 2012