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Update on JCESR’s progress toward 5-5-5 battery for EV and grid applications; convergent and divergent research strategies

In 2012, the US Department of Energy (DOE) awarded $120 million over five years to establish a new Batteries and Energy Storage Hub known as the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR). (Earlier post.) JCESR combines the R&D capabilities of five DOE national laboratories, five universities, and four private firms in an effort to achieve revolutionary advances in battery performance, with electric cars and the electricity grid as the targets. The goal is a battery five times more powerful and five times cheaper within 5 years.

At the Bay Area Battery Summit held at Berkeley Lab this week, JCESR Director George Crabtree gave an update on the Center’s progress toward the 5-5-5 battery and discussed how the Center is refining its approach now that it is almost three years into the five-year mission. (The JCESR award, based on results, is renewable one time for another 5 years.)

Battery Technology Readiness Levels introduced by JCESR to codify the stages of battery technology development from discovery through translation to commercial prototyping. Crabtree (2015) Click to enlarge.

Crabtree started by noting that the energy density of Li-ion batteries has increased linearly by a factor of three since their introduction in the 1970s. The density can increase another 50-100%, he said. The question, he added, is whether or not that increased density—which will hit a limit—is sufficient to “conquer” the transportation and electricity generation markets.

That’s a question we ought to think about. When you think about silicon in the semiconductor industry, gallium arsenide is way better, but we still have a silicon semiconductor industry because it keeps getting better and better and better. I think the difference [with Li-ion] is that there is a limit. It’s a question of whether you think that limit is enough for the two industries to blossom.

Almost everything you’ve tried in Li-ion has failed, and it failed not because it was a bad idea, it failed because there are a lot of side reactions in a battery that take place, and those side reactions sometimes consume the active ingredient or the electrolyte and limit the lifetime. So for a variety of reasons that have nothing to do with the quality of the original idea, most things fail. And that means you have to have backup plans.

Lots of strategic pivots are needed and we learned this lesson for JCESR for the next generation. [We need] a balance of what we call convergent—this means what I’d like to have—and divergent—which means what are my backup plans for when that convergent idea fails—[research]. I want to be able to bring something else to the table.

—George Crabtree

JCESR is working on three main approaches to beyond Li-ion: multivalent intercalation, chemical transformation, and non-aqueous redox flow. The cartoon in the upper left represents the current Li-ion intercalation battery, sometimes called the “rocking chair”. Click to enlarge.

JCESR has been pursuing three energy storage concepts for beyond Li-ion batteries: multivalent intercalation, which involves replacing singly charge lithium ions with doubly or triply charged working ions; chemical transformation; and redox flow, in which energy is stored in liquid electrodes.

  • Multivalent intercalation. Li ions carry a single positive charge. Replacing that with ions having two or three positive charges could increase storage capacity by a factor of two or three.

    JCESR researchers conducted a computer-driven screening of 1,800 candidate multivalent host structures—the largest such systematic survey yet undertaken. This identified the most promising ions as magnesium (“the current favorite,” according to Crabtree) and calcium. Both of these have a two-plus charge. (Mg2+ and Ca2+).

    The team has demonstrated that the Mg2+ ion can be inserted into and released from manganese oxide spinel cathodes. They have also identified two new electrolytes, that, while not yet good enough, are much better, Crabtree said.

  • Chemical transformation. Although Li-O2 batteries fall into this category, JECSR’s analysis found that storing energy in lithium-oxygen chemical bonds is less feasible than previously thought due to the cost of energy density penalty of dealing with a high-purity gaseous oxygen electrode.

    We eliminated Li-oxygen from JCESR because we saw other opportunities that looked easier to do.

    —George Crabtree

    JCESR has switched emphasis to lithium-sulfur instead, with a focus on developing a viable Li metal anode and preventing the polysulfide intermediates that form in the cathode from migrating to the anode and discharging the batteries.

    The efforts have also yielded a new electrolyte that suppresses dendrite growth over thousands of cycles. Modeling has indicated that high sulfur concentration compared to the volume of electrolyte is a promising route to achieve the performance and cost targets.

  • Redox flow. Redox flow batteries replace crystalline electrodes with energy-dense liquids that charge and discharge as they flow through the battery. This type of battery is well-suited for grid storage applications. JCESR has developed new separator concepts for these.

Beyond-lithium-ion batteries embrace many more storage concepts (vertical axis) and materials for implementation of these concepts (horizontal axis) than present generation commercial lithium-ion batteries. As a commercial technology for more than two decades, present generation lithium ion batteries are technically well understood and still capable of significant but incremental advances. In contrast, beyond-lithium-ion batteries are largely unexplored and promise transformative advances. Source: Crabtree (2015) Click to enlarge.

For each of these approaches, Crabtree said, JCESR has to find the materials, make components out of them, and then integrate the components into proof of concept prototypes.

It’s not at all a linear process. We have our favorites and our sub-favorites. We want to continue our divergent research—those are the backup plans—all the way to the end of the 5 years because we expect that half of these will fail—maybe more than half—and we want to have something in the background to move into first place if we need it.

—George Crabtree

JCESR’s new paradigm for battery research and development, integrating discovery science, battery design, research prototyping and manufacturing collaboration in a single highly interactive organization. Crabtree (2015) Click to enlarge.


  • George Crabtree (2015) “The Joint Center for Energy Storage Research: A new paradigm for battery research and development” AIP Conference Proceedings 1652, 112 doi: 10.1063/1.4916174


Henry Gibson

King Canute needs to tell the tide not to come in again.


How much of the initial goal has been reached after 3+ years?

Was the $120M enough to reach 5-5-5 batteries?
Was it a good investment so far?

Should it be replaced with a much bigger (10X+) program to design 10 - 10 - 10 batteries to replaced ICEVs by 2025 or so?


More important to the realization of cost effective broadly available EVs is capital investment into battery manufacturing plants. I suspect some companies already know this and are/will ramp capital investments into batteries. Once batteries find broader commercial markets the little money spent on research now will become irrelevant. The fed supported labs will of course claim to have been key in the manufacturing roll out (they do have the presses ear, and most are so ignorant of facts that any propaganda is immediately absorbed as truth), but more accurately it will be the funds invested in manufacturing that will make all the difference. I expect that the successful manufacturers will be those that can recognize skill in science and have managers that are not insistent on their own aggrandization as a precursor to overall success. So, not any of the old US companies who suffer from old and selfish disease.


Not everything which sounds like a great idea pans out.
Some of us have been looking for advances for since at least 2009, and whilst costs have fallen a lot, the top energy density has been very stubborn.

Maybe it can be cracked, but optimistic time frames are looking just that.

It happens when it happens, if it does.


To crack the energy density of EV batteries requires loads of R & D and a breakthrough in associated technologies. It will not be done overnight with only $120M.

A much 1,000X larger ($120B+) development program over 10 years may be required. That would be just a portion of what a few Oilcos are investing in shale oil, tar sands and shale gas in the same time frame.

USA and a few allies are investing many times more (10X+) in a single quasi-flop F-35 fighter program.

Many of our priorities are not in the right place.

With three mainstream 200 mile BEVs hitting dealer showrooms by 2018, a threshold will have been crossed. Further improvements are welcome, but after GM demonstrates 200 miles in an affordable compact without packaging compromises, it's game on. Nissan's entry a year later will raise the stakes, but I predict that public awareness and interest in EVs will tick up significantly upon the release of the Bolt. They will probably sell out quickly.

The market will be primed for the new Leaf in 2018.


personally, 5-5-5 is good, but I do care more about cycle life - how the battery maintain 5x or 4x energy density throughout their 5-10 yr lifetime. All the batteries are fading at a different pace...


Even more so when you add very cold and/or very hot weather conditions.

The planned 5-5-5 batteries may not be around in 2017 but by another 5+ years latter.

Bolt like claimed 200 miles range will probably do about 120 miles on a very cold snowy day?


I tend to agree with ECI: It's the overall packaging of an affordable 200 mile range car that will make the difference. The 5-5-5 goal was a neat marketing slogan, but not necessary for getting market penetration.

The Bolt, the Gen II Leaf, the Model E and their BMW/Merc/etc competitors will be the difference makers here. That's what gets the manufacturing base up and starts to drive price down. That's what causes the infrastructure to rapidly build out.

All the improvements in batteries will come as a side effect of these models and their volumes. This is also what BK4 was talking about above. I never paid any attention to the 5-5-5 marketing slogan. They should have just gone with whir-whir to match vroom-vroom LOL

You make a good point, Harvey. Really cold weather cuts range. It seems though, that there must be a solution in a cold weather package, or simply good temp control as some EVs do have now.

If you're plugged in to charge and have set a "go time" (Ford's term for it) your cabin will be preconditioned for temperature. Surely that could be done for a battery automatically.

Like Nest, it could very easily learn your pattern so that you only had to OK a routine.

Tesla does suggest using the charger timer to finish charging before starting a trip in really cold weather, and charging will get that battery up to a reasonable temp.

With good insulation, normal operations probably provides sufficient heat to maintain battery temp, except in extremely cold climates. Even that could probably be addressed with an alcohol based catalytic heater.


It is an ambitious goal, I would rather have those than no goals at all.


5-5-5 is the stated JCESR goal since budget approved day ONE.

With 3 of the 5 years gone, "..the Center is refining its approach.. " and ".. JCESR has been pursuing three energy storage concepts for beyond Li-ion batteries.. " --

-- just don't sound like 60% of a 5X higher energy density etc battery, as in the JCESR battery is 300% better than our 1-1-1 battery of three years ago.

Sheldon A Harrison

I am really anxious to see whether the upcoming 200+ mile EVs (which means 150-180 miles real range or barely enough for a two hour plus interstate drive) will have the transformative effect so many seem to think they will. Market growth, yes. Takeover of the market - Highly questionable especially with gas prices low. This question is especially relevant if recharge continues to take multiples of tens of minutes to get going again when low. Interesting times ahead. I ask this with a chuckle as a coworker today just set out on a 16 hour overnight drive and the plan is as few stops as possible. Also on the horizon is Thanksgiving where many folks will be embarking on trips 200,300,400,500 and more miles, often doing the runs with minimal stopping, anxious to get to family to share the Turkey.

When you're driving in town, a 200 mile EV means that you never have to charge outside of home, while you sleep.

When you're on a trip, if it's 200 miles, a 15 minute en route charge will get you there with a healthy margin. Add another 15 minutes for a total of 300 miles.

A 400 mile trip might take two charge sessions, but the second one could be short, maybe 15 minutes.

If you don't take 400 or 500 mile trips in your car very often (once, twice a year?) an extra hour or two while you eat a meal or explore, or shop, is a very small inconvenience for paying less than $1 gallon equivalent - or possibly free if you have solar and time of use rates. (I charge 3 EVs and my utility bill is still $0 at the end of the year, except for a few bucks in grid connect charges).


60% of oil is used by light vehicles.

Once light vehicle miles driven are 10% electric, a 20% sales growth rate destroys ALL oil demand growth plus some additional.

Making oil very cheap basically forever.

This inflection point will significantly stall electric uptake - the only thing that can break through it for electric is a carbon tax.


I think the 5-5-5 battery strategy is the best solution for industry at present. It is keeping auto engineers aware of current and concurrent electric cell technologies. As HarveyD pointed out the technology would not be seen on the road for several years after the 5 year planned finish. If another 5 year plan starts up after this it can take advantage of any outside developments and again spread a wide net for better battery models. This would out- perform any rigid 10 year plan, that could be prone to failure due to cost blow outs over time. This is probably what big oil wants to justify is destructive practices on the environment and falsely claim a more price competitive product that continues to not meet clean air standards.

Just on the issue of BEVs performing poorly in cold weather climates, to the whingers of such trivia : Its not all about you. A large portion of the worlds population lives near the equator, including Indonesia, Australia, Brazil, several African countries, Mexico, southern USA, India, China and the Arab states. Many drivers in these countries often operate in very warm city environments for which air conditioning is required. If you look up Green Car Congress articles on improvements in auto air conditioning and choice of refrigerant gases this to is being solved as an efficiency problem. Maybe people in the icy states will have to drive oil-burners for a while longer.


@NewtonPulsifier, by the time we reach that inflection point, EVs will be comparable in upfront cost to gasoline powered vehicles.

But even when the dirt cheap gasoline arrives (which I agree is inevitable for the reasons you point out), the EV market share will still continue to increase because people will prefer EVs over gasoline vehicles (faster, quieter, cleaner, safer, easier to drive etc).

10 years from now, an ICE powered vehicle is going to look very old and clunky indeed.


I don't think a carbon tax will kill ice's, if you taxed all carbon equally, you could have several regions with where alt fuels such as ethanol/isobutanol/methanol from waste, they'd would wipe the floor electricity. Nukes would go up, dams would go up, ecosystems would be changed forever.

In reality liquid fuels will likely never get over the $5 mark in the US, maybe $5-6 if crude was outlawed...renewables would be every where diverting carbon to liquid fuels at higher prices, being mostly carbon neutral/negative they'd be mostly exempt, unlike natural gas or other forms of power generation prevalent in the U.S. and other countries. Ethanol can be had pretty cheap, and fuel from waste streams can be a money maker on several fronts... Some could be competive with cheap gas of today.

The only way electrics are going to be competitive is from a vice tax or some amazing break through. We could be 15-20 years out from mass adoption, I do think the bolt will sell well, but I don't see it out selling ices in the segment. Put out something that is cost competitive with $3/gal gasoline has 200+mile range and ices will disappear...$5/gal you'd see good market penetration, at $9/gal its a niche.

I am glad to see other approaches to the battery problem, especially looking for alternatives to Li, we could see a real break through by looking at new materials, Li is quickly coming up with diminishing returns.

I'd like a hybrid SUV with 50+miles EV range that would be cost beneficial to a non hybrid.


I don't think anyone here expects "market dominance" by EVs anytime soon. We're talking about going from 0.1% of global sales to more like 5% of annual global sales in the next 5 years. And that's optimistic...but doable if the right circumstances come together.


Right now PHEVs are mostly driven by early adopters, but that won't last.  As soon as PHEV drivetrains get cheap enough, you'll see people opting out of the bulk of their petroleum consumption every time pump prices rise.  As batteries and electronics get cheaper and better, that price point will keep dropping.  Eventually the PHEV will displace the bulk of liquid fuel demand with electrons, then the EV will finish the job.


I have to agree with E-P (this time) that improved lower cost PHEVs (and combo FC/PHEVs) are excellent interim solutions to replace many/most ICEVs.

Eventually, improved BEVs and FCEVs will finish the job, sometime between 2030 and 2040?

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