Batteries are the basis of almost all futuristic energy visions: they will be used to power cars and store energy from intermittent renewables.

In an effort to improve battery technology, DOE research center Argonne National Laboratory has partnered with the Dow Chemical Company to conduct collaborative research on advanced battery technologies using several new materials that could improve battery performance and lower costs. On Wednesday it announced it will also partner with Western Lithium, a company that produces lithium carbonate for batteries.

Senior Business Director for Dow Energy Materials David Klanecky said the collaboration is intended to feed the growing energy storage market.

While demand is growing from business in the electric vehicle industry, battery technology is still lagging and in many ways delaying advancement of electric vehicles. If prices are too high and not enough energy can be stored in its battery, an electric vehicle is largely useless to mainstream consumers.

“The goal of this collaboration will be… to develop next generation energy storage materials that address the performance, cost and adoption challenges found in today’s emerging battery technologies,” said Argonne’s leader for energy storage major initiatives Jeff Chamberlain.

Using the Kings Valley, Nevada lithium deposit, Western Lithium is also hoping to improve battery performance by refining the purity of the substance when used for manufacturing.

“In 2010 and 2011, Western Lithium produced high quality lithium carbonate from its pilot studies in the United States and Germany and achieved lithium carbonate purity in the range of 99.5 – 99.9%,” said Western Lithium President Jay Chmelauskas. “We believe that the industry will continue to require improved product specifications for current and future lithium-ion battery applications.”

Purity can be critical in lithium carbonate batteries and can have an immense impact on performance, according to Argonne scientist Ilias Belharouak, who will lead a team of researchers on the Western Lithium project.

Based in Midland, Michigan, the Dow Chemical Company is one of many Michigan-based battery manufacturing companies that is now indirectly benefiting from Recovery Act funds directed to the sector.

State Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), also a member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, has repeatedly touted her efforts with the battery manufacturing sector as an effort to both compete with Chinese manufacturing and also to create local jobs. Stabenow has also proposed the Advanced Vehicle Technology Act, which would provide government incentives to convert medium and heavy-duty vehicles, such as trucks and tractor-trailers, into hybrids and EV’s. Besides the environmental and economic benefits of the bill, she has said the demand would boost domestic battery manufacturing.

On her website homepage, Stabenow features this DOE video showing how battery manufacturing is creating jobs in Michigan.

Photo Caption: (top) This undated aerial photo shows the Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois. Argonne is one of the US Department of Energy’s largest research centers and the nation’s first national laboratory, chartered in 1946. It specializes in non-weapon nuclear and chemical research.