Green Energy cars research

A new industry-academia collaborative, open innovation lab in the nation's automotive capital is hoping to give a boost to the green car industry.

Academia and industry are pairing up in the form of a new battery research and manufacturing lab that Ford and the Univ. of Michigan hope will speed the development of batteries for electric and hybrid cars. The new center is designed for inter-cooperative research between battery makers, car companies and researchers who will test new batteries for electric and hybrid vehicles. The lab will be operational next year, and the organizers hope their collaboration will produce battery prototypes soon after.

Currently, electric cars are slow sellers, and electric hybrids and plug-in hybrids make up just 3 percent of sales in the U.S. Part of what’s holding back these cars from taking over the industry is the price of their batteries, which are thousands of dollars each. The researchers, from both the university and Ford, hope to change this by accelerating the production of more durable, cheaper, better quality batteries. Each party brings different points of view and separate motivations to the project, creating a richer environment for innovation.

Meeting of the minds

Ford had already been considering creating their own in-house battery lab, but when the Univ. of Michigan renovated its Phoenix Memorial Laboratory to house the Energy Institute, it was a perfect fit.

The million center received million from the Michigan Economic Development Corp., a public-private agency, 0, 000 from the university and .1 million from Ford. But it wasn’t simply a matter of sharing funds and space in a cutting-edge lab that drew Ford to the project. It valued the educational aspect of the lab.

“Students need to be able to conduct research in an environment—and with equipment—that is state-of-the-art, or very close, ” says Ted Miller, Senior Manager of Energy Storage Strategy and Research, Ford Motor Co. “The ability to maintain the proper quality and controls during fabrication of samples, and evaluation of new materials, is vital to really understanding the technology. It also ensures the repeatability of experiments. This is vital to academic research for it to be taken seriously by all parties—academia, industry and national laboratories.”

Not only will the lab afford Ford the opportunity to work with a larger pool of researchers and supplies but, Miller says, it is also important to promote the education and research of students in order to assist in developing the next generation of energy storage scientists and engineers.

The new lab will combine research and manufacturing into one space. This means that, in one laboratory, researchers will be able to create experimental batteries using real-world production processes and then test them on in-situ analysis equipment to study how the battery cells charge and discharge.

The key to the lab is that it brings the different industries together early in the developmental process. All automakers have labs where they test batteries for durability and quality, Miller says, but that’s happening very late in the battery development process. The new lab will ensure that automakers’ input is heard earlier. In the same light, academic researchers will have the opportunity to learn about the new demands on existing technologies, such as nickel/metal-hydride and lithium ion batteries.

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