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Is Chicago a new cleantech hub?

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(Read caption) The Chicago skyline is seen in this June 2012 file photo. The US Department of Energy awarded the Argonne National Laboratory a $120 million grant over 5 years, alongside a $35 million commitment for a new 45,000 square foot facility from the State of Illinois, Stuebi writes.

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At the end of November, the U.S. Department of Energy announced that it had selected Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago to host the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR), and bestowed upon it a $120 million grant over 5 years, alongside a $35 million commitment for a new 45,000 square foot facility from the State of Illinois.

As noted in this article in the Chicago Tribune, the goal for the JCESR is to improve battery technologies by a factor of five — five times cheaper, with five times higher performance — within five years.

One of the nation’s Energy Innovation Hubs just being launched, the JCESR has an impressive list of collaborators.  In addition to Argonne, four other national laboratories – Lawrence BerkeleyPacific NorthwestSandia and SLAC National Accelerator – will also conduct research under the JCESR umbrella.  University research partners include Northwestern University, the University of Chicago, the University of Illinois at Chicago, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and theUniversity of Michigan.  A long list of the leading venture capital firms active in the cleantech arena – including ARCH VenturesKhosla VenturesKleiner PerkinsTechnology Partners and Venrock – will serve on an advisory panel to help focus the research on commercially-interesting opportunities.  Corporate titans Applied Materials (NASDAQ: AMAT)Dow Chemical (NYSE: DOW)and Johnson Controls (NYSE: JCI) have loaned their names to the effort. 

Whether it was because the team didn’t want their influence or because they didn’t want to be involved, no corporate representatives from the automotive or electricity industries are part of the JCESR constellation.

Especially when paired with the Galvin Center for Electricity Innovation just 30 miles away at theIllinois Institute of Technology, where smart-grid research is a primary focus, the JCESR announcement arguably leapfrogs the Windy City into the top echelon of cleantech technology research clusters, particularly as it relates to electricity management.


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