Basf Charged Up Over Technology From Argonne To Build Better Batteries

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Argonne National Laboratory announced last week that it had reached a licensing deal with chemical manufacturer BASF to produce and bring to market new materials used to construct advanced battery systems. The new batteries will be used to build next-generation electric and hybrid vehicles and for consumer electronics applications.

Argonne researchers developed the materials with funding from the Department of Energy's Vehicle Technologies Program. The composite materials use lithium- and manganese-oxides, and can be used to make cathodes in rechargeable batteries.

A cathode is the positively charged terminal of a battery. Batteries that use these new cathode materials promise to be longer lasting, faster charging, and safer than traditional lithium-ion batteries.

The deal gives BASF a worldwide license to produce and market the patented materials. "It's essentially materials and related coatings that are used for the cathode," said Jeff Chamberlain, a senior account manager in Argonne's office of technology transfer. "These materials address some fundamental safety issues [with lithium-ion batteries], and increase the overall energy able to be stored."

"They're safer, they're higher energy, they're less expensive," Chamberlain said. "Those are part of the targets that the DOE laid out for us in doing the research."

He said the deal was important because it was a way to commercialize Argonne researchers' advances in battery technology. "The potential is there for a dramatic impact on society," he said.

BASF, with North American headquarters in Florham Park, N.J., also announced that they intend to build a facility in the U.S. to manufacture battery cathodes based on the newly licensed materials. The facility is slated to be built in Elyria, Ohio, and may create a number of high-tech jobs there. The Ohio facility is contingent upon a grant from the Department of Energy. "The DOE grant represents 50 percent of the funding," said Daniel Pepitone, the North American corporate communications manager for BASF. "It'll have a significant economic impact for that region, and perhaps the state."

He emphasized that beyond their application in hybrid and electric vehicles, the batteries produced with these new materials have a variety of applications in the consumer electronics market. "We do have numerous customers lined up that work with our materials," Pepitone said. He said that other applications might include cell phone and laptop batteries.

If everything goes according to plan, new batteries using the cathode materials may be on the market within two years. "You should see production by the end of 2011 to 2012," Pepitone said. "That's when you'll see new batteries on the market."

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