The biggest problem with battery cars? The batteries -- shown here being assembled at a Nissan plant.

The biggest problem with today’s battery cars? The batteries, of course, which simply can’t deliver enough power in a compact, reasonably lightweight package.

A California-based initiative is aimed at “turbocharging the innovation process,” explained a senior official, looking for ways to boost power, drop costs and extend battery life. The project, dubbed CalCharge, has added six new partners, including major players like the Japanese auto giant Toyota and German mega-supplier Bosch.  In all, 18 automakers, parts suppliers and energy companies have joined the initiative – which has also teamed up with a number of national research labs.

“Connecting private companies with the talent at the labs means that innovators at both public and private organizations have a new opportunity to learn and share with one another,” said Horst Simon, deputy director at Berkeley Lab, one of the founding organizations of CalCharge.

The addition of more partners, Simon added, should help the CarCharge initiative “move closer to meaningful breakthroughs in battery technology.”

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CalCharge pairs companies with three Bay Area national labs: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Tesla has addressed range and performance -- but that means lots of heavy, expensive batteries.

“Gaining access to the national labs, their experts and unique facilities means we can accelerate our innovation efforts,” said Aleksandar Kojic, department head in corporate research at Bosch.

The CalCharge CRADAs, or Collaborative Research and Development Agreements, helps national labs, funded by the Department of Energy, find and work with pioneering companies.

“The CalCharge CRADA has enabled SLAC to quickly engage with industry partners in helping to advance their battery technology,” said Mark Hartney, chief technology officer at SLAC. “Through CalCharge, SLAC is furthering the Department of Energy’s stated strategy of helping private industry accelerate their technology development in collaboration with the national labs.”

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Battery-based vehicles have been slower to catch on than proponents had hoped. Cost is a major issue, both for consumers, as well as automakers who often have to subsidize their plug-in and battery-electric vehicles to bring them within the reach of buyers. Limited range is a second major challenge. The industry also needs to be sure that batteries will last long enough to satisfy consumers who might otherwise be saddled with expensive replacement costs.

“Being able to store energy efficiently, affordably and at the right scale is the key to unleashing the full power of the clean energy economy,” said Julie Blunden, chair of the CalCharge board, who suggested that, “By bringing national labs and cutting-edge companies together, CalCharge is turbocharging the innovation process (which) brings breakthroughs that much closer to the marketplace.”

California is considered a leader in the energy storage sector, with over one hundred companies working to advance battery technology.

“What happens in the California energy sector shapes the entire industry,” said Dr. Mohan Misra, founder, president and CEO of ITN Energy Systems, a technology incubator focused on developing next generation flow batteries, lithium-ion batteries and fuel cells.

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