German engineers are a pretty confident bunch, but then they have a right to be. Europe's manufacturing giant weathered the recession with minimal layoffs and its economy is set to grow about 3% this year. German firms are staring at an enviable backlog of orders for cars, machinery, and other precision goods. Here in the U.S., well, it's a different story.
So when a group at Germany's Karlsruhe Institute of Technology says the costs of building electric vehicle (EV) power trains and batteries could be halved by 2018, perhaps we should listen. Self-promoting as it sounds for German industry, the country is throwing big money behind the boast. The country's $273 million Competence E project will bring together 250 scientists from 25 institutes to commercialize innovations from research, delivering the missing link between government, academia, and industry for commercialization of EV technology. The project (slated to run at least through 2018) is a publicly funded research effort similar to particle accelerators and clean-room laboratories, only dedicated to building the manufacturing foundation for EVs.
“We are no longer focused on studying individual molecules or components, but on developing solutions on the system level, which meet industrial requirements,” says project head Andreas Gutsch in an interview with ScienceBusiness."We are actively approaching industry and will even intensify these efforts…We are conducting excellent research for application, not for the drawer."
KIT will develop a "research factory" that will construct and demonstrate fabrication lines for novel batteries and electric technologies. As gaps in the innovation chain narrow, researchers believe the time and money required to move innovations from lab to market will drop sharply. It bares some resemblance to the (not-yet-funded) $100 million effort to launch a Material Genome Initiative here in the U.S. that we reported on in August.
In the U.S., the Department of Energy is offering at least $175 million in grant-based funding for multiple projects, as well as other initiatives, but a coordinated cross-sector effort does not seem to be on the table.
We'll see which approach crosses the finish line first.
[Image: Flickr user Minuk]