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CalCharge aims to jumpstart U.S. battery tech

CalCharge aims to jumpstart U.S. battery tech

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How to accelerate battery technology for consumer electronics, the power grid and electric cars? By putting dozens of startups under one roof and giving them access to the Berkeley Lab, of course.

The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and CalCEF have launched CalCharge, a project that aims to jumpstart new battery technologies and bring energy storage to market faster by putting dozens of early-stage startups and established companies together under one roof.

Companies that join the consortium will get access to Berkeley lab's facilities and personnel, including testing and diagnostics equipment. In return, the marketplace hopefully gets innovative battery technology for consumer electronics, electric/hybrid vehicles and the power grid.

CalCharge also aims to strengthen California's burgeoning battery industry and turn it into a major economic driver for the region.

The battery industry in California is off to a promising start. More than 30 battery startups and large companies are located in the San Francisco Bay area alone, said Berkeley lab. The state leads the rest of the nation in battery technology patent registrations, adding 258 filings between 2008 and 2010, according to the California Green Innovation Index. And venture capital investment in energy storage in 2011 grew 13-fold over the previous year.

Still, there's work to be done. "There's a lot of battery know-how in California, specifically the Bay Area, but technology startups need an ecosystem to thrive," said Venkat Srinivasan, head of Berkeley Lab energy storage research program, in a statement. This so-called regional ecosystem would include advanced battery technology companies, customers who use that tech and research institutions that not only offer expertise and equipment, but an educated pool of workers.

The folks behind CalCharge also see the consortium as a way to help emerging energy storage startups navigate complex market and major technical issues -- challenges that companies like A123 Systems can attest to.

Photo: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

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Kirsten Korosec

Contributing Editor

Kirsten Korosec has written for Technology Review, Marketing News, The Hill, BNET and Bloomberg News. She holds a degree from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. She is based in Tucson, Arizona. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure