The program recognizes that significant breakthroughs in battery chemistry and vehicle architecture are crucial for EVs to compete with internal combustion vehicles. In response, most of the RANGE projects consider alternative materials for batteries that are lighter than existing batteries, safer in the case of collision, and don’t rely on foreign-sourced rare materials. We spoke with Dr. Cheryl Martin, Deputy Director of ARPA-E, about the new program, which she described as the agency’s “twist on improving the EV battery space.”
The battery system is the most complex and expensive element of an EV, which means innovations in its size, material, structure, and placement are integral to making EVs affordable and reliable enough for every American to replace their conventional combustion vehicles.
The RANGE program facilitates what Dr. Martin calls these kinds of “big swing” innovations by investing in a variety of projects that address key system challenges, but approach solving these problems from different directions. The program invests in “seedling” early-stage projects – like the collaborative project between EnZinc, Inc. and the U.S. Naval Research Lab funded at only $448,000. According to EnZinc’s president and co-founder, Michael Burz, “What we knew was needed is a systems approach to battery design – a reimagining of the fundamental architecture of the battery. Where most battery development uses exotic materials in a fundamentally conventional way, we are using conventional materials in an exotic architecture.” EnZinc’s zinc-air battery has the potential to double range and cut costs in half, which according to Dr. Martin could prompt a “technology leap that could be absolutely important for the future of EVs.”