The new Kentucky-Argonne Battery Manufacturing Research and Development Center in Lexington, Ky., could be an important step in powering both innovation and economic growth across the state. The Kentucky-Argonne Center, which opened its doors in August, is one of the largest, most advanced open access labs of its kind in the United States. And Kentucky has big plans for this facility. The hope is that it will support cutting-edge research, enable collaborations between a variety of users, and foster innovation in accelerating advanced battery technologies.
“Research centers such as ours have been shown to attract high-tech companies that license technology and bring it to market. The result is an overall increase in the number of high-value businesses and higher paying jobs,” says Tony Hancock, special assistant to the secretary of Kentucky’s Energy and Environment Cabinet.
The Kentucky-Argonne Center is the result of a partnership between Argonne National Laboratory, the Commonwealth of Kentucky, the University of Kentucky, and the University of Louisville. The center worked out an arrangement where it shares one third of its new 43,000-square-foot office building with the University of Kentucky. In exchange, companies that locate in the Kentucky-Argonne Center have access to state-of-the art laboratory and testing space at the university’s neighboring 40,000-square-foot building. Companies also have access to 2,000 square feet of dry lab for prototype manufacturing; two Class 10,000 clean rooms; materials analysis labs; catalyst research labs; the world’s largest carbon spin line; battery test facilities; and environmental and bunker testing.
The relationship with Argonne enables researchers at the center to have expedited access to its expertise and intellectual property. Research partners include Ford, Hitachi Automotive U.S., nGimat, Angstron Materials, and Zeon Chemical.
Powering Electric Cars
Consider all of the gadgets that rely on battery power today, and the Kentucky-Argonne Center certainly has the potential for broad applications across a variety of industries. However, a primary focus of the R&D center will be one of the state’s key industries — auto manufacturing.
Automakers already have the capability to make electric vehicles with models such as Toyota’s Prius and Ford’s new C-Max. However, there is continued focus on improving and evolving those models. The battery, which is the single most expensive part of the electric vehicle, will play a key role in that future success. The auto industry is working on reducing that cost, as well as overcoming hurdles related to the recharge time and the distance and lifetime they can get out of the battery, which will make these vehicles more marketable.
The Kentucky-Argonne Center offers a unique facility to foster collaboration to find solutions. For example, leaders of both Toyota and Ford are discussing ways that the two companies can pool resources and find ways to work together to develop the next generation of light-duty vehicles.
“We have the opportunity to use this center as middle ground for research,” says Ford Motor Company Governmental Affairs Manager Jay Morgan. “It also is the only place in the world where we have Ford manufacturing and Toyota manufacturing facilities in such close proximity.” Ultimately, both entities recognize that the ability to share technologies and suppliers will reduce the cost of the vehicles because of the ability to produce common parts for multiple vehicle models, Morgan explains.
Certainly, the state of Kentucky hopes to benefit from such collaboration. “The Governor’s dream, and our dream, is that Kentucky would become the new automotive hub for electric vehicles,” says Hancock. “We can be the new generation and basically the Silicon Valley of electric vehicles.”