The Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR), a division at Argonne National Laboratory that works closely with the U.S. Department of Energy, is involved in a number of research projects designed to create and ultimately commercialize batteries that are more efficient, safer and longer-lasting than what is available today.

The lithium-ion battery, today’s poster child for large-scale, medium-scale and small-scale energy storage, was developed in 1979 by American scientist John Goodenough. Since that time, manufacturers have increased the energy density of the lithium-ion battery by a factor of six while reducing costs tenfold.


These days, JCESR is focused on four battery prototypes: two for vehicles and two for the electric grid, which are designed to break through the $100-per-kilowatt-hour barrier.


One project involves creating a battery within five years that will be able to store at least five times more energy than today’s lithium-ion batteries at one-fifth the cost. According to JCESR calculations, it will make storing and releasing electricity on the grid as inexpensive as generating it with natural gas turbines.


“Next-generation energy storage has the potential to replace traditional century-old fossil fuel technologies with newer, more sustainable and cleaner alternatives,” according to JCESR. “The market implications are impressive. In energy terms, next-generation batteries could have at least 10 times the market reach of today’s batteries.”


JCESR is working on ways to refine test cells in a new battery, using sulfur, water and air, to create a seasonal storage battery for electric grid usage—one that will be able to store power for a full month, as opposed to the current hours-only storage capacity of large batteries.


In the meantime, Goodenough, now emeritus professor at the University of Texas, has filed a patent application for a different kind of battery with a glass-based electrolyte, impregnated with lithium and sodium, which will allow current to flow even faster than it does with conventional lithium-ion batteries, preventing shorts and increasing energy capacity.


Regardless of whether there is ever a “one best” battery, it is clear that research continues nationwide for the latest and greatest technologies for energy storage, and the electric grid and its customers will be among the beneficiaries.