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Silicon Valley Business Journal: State’s Cleantech Push Fuels Partnership

Posted by the Silicon Valley Business Journal Feb. 22, 2013.

By Preeti Upadhyaya

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory wanted to find a way to attract engineers into the battery industry, which had become short on talent, as graduates stayed in academia rather than moving into the marketplace.

Douglas Davenport, program manager at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, said the solution came through a partnership.

The Lab decided to partner with nonprofit CalCEF Catalyst, which focuses on clean energy. Together they became CalCharge, which then turned to San Jose State University and Battery University was launched. The partnership sought out SJSU because it has been long known for its engineering talent.

Dr. Ahmed Hambaba, associate dean of the San Jose State University College of Engineering, will spearhead the program.

The battery manufacturing industry has seen a recent slowdown, which Hambaba attributed to the difficulty of finding qualified engineers.

“We all have batteries in our life, especially with all the different devices we carry around. The challenge around batteries today is getting them to charge faster and keep the charge longer. They also need to be much smaller and lightweight,” Hambaba said.

The importance of battery technology is also being fueled by California’s AB 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act. By 2020 the state’s greenhouse gas emissions have to be reduced to 1990 levels. A significant part of that reduction will have to come through the automotive industry and through improvements in energy efficiency.

This means that more engineers will be needed in the battery sector to help achieve these goals.

“This is a big job opportunity for Silicon Valley,” Hambaba said.

Davenport said a school like Battery University is needed because an individual doesn’t just get a degree in batteries.

“You need a very wide and deep knowledge base at a systems level, as well as an understanding of the market,” he said.

He added, “The need for battery technology goes way beyond consumer needs. The future of cars and our power supply is depending on it.”

Hambaba and Davenport pointed to some key areas where demand for sophisticated battery technology is strong, including consumer devices such as smartphones and tablets, powergrids and transportation,

particularly in the electric vehicle sector. Some companies that have shown interest in the SJSU program include Sony and Duracell, as well as automakers that have hybrid and electric cars in production.

The project is already garnering interest from students. Hambaba said he has been receiving up to five inquiries a day.