The U.S. Department of Defense announced plans to team up with the University of Texas at Dallas in a historic collaboration to the tune of $30 million.
Over the course of three years, these federal taxpayer dollars will go toward UTD’s efforts to develop groundbreaking battery technologies and high-quality training programs for workers on a brand-new energy storage systems campus dubbed the Batteries and Energy to Advance Commercialization and National Security (BEACONS) center.
A press release from the DoD’s Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Industrial Base Policy explained that UTD had led a successful bid for the funds dispensed by its Scaling Capacity and Accelerating Local Enterprises (SCALE) initiative.
“The expertise of our faculty researchers, the excellence of our academic programs in engineering and science, and our demonstrated ability to leverage partnerships with industry put UTD in a unique position to lead this national effort to drive innovation in battery technology and manufacturing,” explained Richard C. Benson, UT Dallas president, according to a press release.
UTD’s bid also included collaboration with a consortium of universities such as the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Chicago, businesses in the energy storage sector, and four national laboratories.
The award constitutes the largest sum UTD has ever received in federal funding.
A further $200 million in private capital and $700,000 from UTD’s Seed Program will go towards backing operations at the energy storage systems campus.
UTD’s Kyeongjae Cho, currently a professor of materials science and engineering at the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science, will be the director of the BEACONS center.
Its primary aims will be enhancing existing battery technologies, preparing individuals for careers in the burgeoning field of battery energy storage, and reducing reliance on scarce raw materials.
Joseph Pancrazio, UTD’s vice president for research and innovation, told The Dallas Morning News that the research conducted at the BEACONS center will be paramount to the industry.
“We can’t afford to fail. I say that for the entire scientific and, ultimately, the commercial enterprise,” Pancrazio said. “We don’t have enough lithium to meet the needs of all the rechargeable technologies that are going to be critical for renewables, the next generation of mobility solutions and even DoD-related activities and infrastructure. Without a doubt, we have to be successful.”
As explained by Laura Taylor-Kale, the U.S. assistant secretary of defense for industrial base policy, adding to the nation’s scientific prowess and commercializing innovative research is critical to national security and pull in the market, according to the DoD press release.
Yet creating a high-quality workforce for the battery storage industry is equally critical, as explained by Cho.
“Renewable energy is a rapidly expanding area, and Texas is leading the country in the expansion of energy storage capacity,” Cho told the DMN. “We need not only Ph.D.-level experts but also technicians who know how to safely handle batteries.”