Efforts are underway to clean up our atmosphere, from high-powered EV chargers to carbon-neutral aviation fuel. Scientists in Chicago area are focused on decarbonizing our planet and they’re working at unprecedented speeds.

Energy is the focus at Argonne National Laboratory in DuPage County.

Seth Darling, Ph.D is Argonne National Laboratory’s Chief Science and Technology Officer.

“A little more than half of the greenhouse gas emissions that come from transportation are from cars and other light duty vehicles,” he said. ”The easiest way to decarbonize that part of the transportation sector is electrification, going to electric vehicles. We are having to do something we have never done before in terms of the pace of change.”

Darling is one of our country’s premier energy experts.

“There’s more solar energy coming down to earth than we’ll ever need as a society,” he said

Darling, along with a battery of scientists, are working at lightning speed to decarbonize our planet.
“The timescale here is not because we like to be ambitious. The timescale was imposed on us by climate change,” he said. “We know in the next few decades is when we have to decarbonize our economy so we’re racing now to catch up.”

They’re making powerful progress in the transportation sector.

Thomas Wallner Ph.D works on high-powered EV chargers.

The faster the charge, the closer the experience is to a conventional stop at a gas station.

“With 350 kilowatts chargers those numbers get down to 10, 15 minutes, so we’re getting to a pretty good ballpark here,” Wallner said. “We have large solar arrays where we can capture the energy from the sun and we can store it in this large container-sized battery in the back.”

“A lot of it is just getting steel on the ground, more chargers, we need hundreds of thousands of EV chargers in the United States to meet this growing demand,” Darling said.

Where will all those chargers go? Argonne scientists are already plotting out deployment of a massive grid.

“Any technology we roll out, whether it’s energy technology or anything else is going to have an environmental impact,” Darling said. “There is no such thing as a zero environmental impact technology to use. So the question is how can we minimize the impact?”

Battery recycling improvements are just one piece of the puzzle. What was once an electric car, pulled from a dump and then shredded will then climb the conveyor belt at the laboratory’s ReCell center.

Jessica Macholz, Ph.D also works at Argonne.

“When we’re recycling, we’re looking at getting back as many components as possible,” she said
The valuable bits are captured and sorted.

“We’re doing the research now so when these batteries in electric vehicles reach their end of life in 10 or 15 years, we have the technologies ready to recycle them,” Macholz said. “You would find about 200 of these in a Chevy Volt.”

And about 7000 of in a Tesla.

Batteries of all shapes and sizes are studied with the goal of putting their valuable parts back into the supply chain.

The research at Argonne spans from the ground to the air.

Sustainable aviation fuels, or SAFS, are derived from plant sources, biomass and agriculturally sourced feed stocks. The renewables that can power a plane — as well as locomotives and marine craft — are a major focus of the laboratory’s decarbonization efforts.

Michael Leskinen is president of United Airlines Ventures.

“We are purchasing and consuming more sustainable aviation fuel than any other airline in the world today,” he said.

United is among the companies aggressively exploring carbon neutral jet fuels, which are compatible with current engines. Global airline traffic represents about 2% of global emissions.

“The solution to the carbon footprint of air travel is not to fly less, it’s to figure out ways to fly cleaner,” Leskinen said.

Cleaner is critical.

“It’s hard to overstate the consequence of doing nothing here. So if we were to just give up on the clean energy transition and decarbonization more broadly, it would literally be an existential threat to human civilization, that’s not an exaggeration,” Darling said. “The good news is we’re already starting to take some of the steps we need to take we just need to take bigger steps and take them faster.”