2008? Let's look forward to 2009

December 29, 2008

by Mark Ollig

Usually, end-of-the-year columns mean recycling everything we have already been through for the last 12 months.

This humble columnist would like to simply state, “Been there – done that.”

I say, let’s aim this ship forward and headlong into the turbulent waves of 2009.

We already know technology has made our daily lives more productive in how we work and play.

The “awe” and “wonderment” has been experienced by most of us using it, but now I feel it is time for some “forward-thinking” use of technology in 2009.

In going forward, let’s take a look at what is called the United States, own “national laboratory.”

It’s the “Argonne National Laboratory” and is one of the US Department of Energy’s leading research centers.

Argonne’s laboratory complex is located about 25 miles southwest of Chicago.

Argonne was not recently created; in fact, it was first chartered in 1946.

So how does this tie in to 2009 and our forward-sailing ship?

Be patient, my open-minded readers, I’m getting to it – but first, let me share one bit of Argonne’s history.

Argonne is a direct “offspring” of the University of Chicago’s Metallurgical Laboratory, which played a large role in the famous “Manhattan Project” during World War II.

It was at this laboratory where, Dec. 2 1942, a man called Enrico Fermi and about fifty of his fellow colleagues created the world’s first controlled nuclear chain reaction in of all places, a racquet ball court at the University of Chicago.

This “chain reaction” was known as the atomic bomb.

Fermi held an unselfish belief that a “collaborative approach” to all research would expand understanding and result in superior usefulness.

It is with this belief that the Argonne National Laboratory was created as a research and development center, which today brings together many segments of science, engineering, and technology.

The Argonne web site states they currently are operating with a $530 million dollar budget and employ some 1,000 scientists and engineers holding 750 doctorate degrees.

These folks represent some of the best and the brightest.

Moving forward – this month it was announced 14 US technology companies have formed an alliance with Argonne to manufacture lithium ion batteries for electric cars.

I feel this is a serious move forward and even a “wake-up call” on the part of our government to finally participate in and realize the dream of a practical and no-nonsense electrically-powered car.

Argonne is to serve in an advisory capacity, which to me means the government is finally serious about a reliable and green alternative to the use fossil fuels.

In the release I read, Argonne is quoted as saying, “Additional battery developers and materials suppliers are anticipated to join the alliance.”

Some of theses 14-companies include large players like the 3M Company, MicroSun Technologies, and Altair Nanotechnologies.

The National Alliance for Advanced Transportation Battery Cell Manufacture just came out and said that lithium ion batteries “are anticipated to replace gasoline as the principal source of energy in future cars and military vehicles.”

“A small, fragmented battery industry will not long survive in the face of determined Asian competition,” said battery manufacturer consultant Ralph Brodd.

“Other countries are investing heavily in the manufacture of lithium ion cells,” he said. “Those countries understand that whoever makes the batteries will one day make the cars.”

This new 14-company alliance said it will seek to develop one or more manufacturing and prototype development centers in the United States.

Minnesota would certainly be a good location, wouldn’t it?

If we can lead the way in the development and manufacturing of reliable and long-lasting electric car batteries, our country could realize the same success America’s own Santa Clara, California’s Intel had with the microprocessor.

Hopefully, we will finally have an eco-clean, reliable, and long lasting lithium-ion battery powered car soon.

This new alliance with Argonnne is being compared with a previous alliance it had back in the 1980’s with semiconductor maker Sematech.

Argonne worked and supported Sematech to help it and other US manufacturers become competitive in semiconductor technology.

“Sematech played a key role in improving manufacturing in the US semiconductor industry,” said Sanford Kane, a former director of Sematech. “Batteries will be to automobiles what semiconductors were to computers,” Kane concluded.

Of course, time will tell, and given the current economic and environmental conditions, I am still optimistic US ingenuity and talent will once again be realized. I hope we will again stand up and demonstrate to the world and to ourselves we are confident the future can be a productive one – full of opportunity for all.

On this week’s “Web Site of The Week” online forum, your humble Bits_blogger will be showcasing the Argonne National Laboratory, where I will provide further information and a few amazing photographs, too.

You can also learn more information about Argonne on the Internet at http://www.anl.gov/.

What’s next? How about an alliance into productive and practical wind power generation, which can be distributed over a reliable national power grid?

Welcome 2009, we are ready for you.