Education

Bevin administration ends state contract at UK battery research center

The Kentucky-Argonne Battery Manufacturing Research and Development Center has been housed at the University of Kentucky’s Center for Applied Energy Research at Spindletop in Lexington. Gov. Matt Bevin’s administration decided not to renew the contract of the battery center director.
The Kentucky-Argonne Battery Manufacturing Research and Development Center has been housed at the University of Kentucky’s Center for Applied Energy Research at Spindletop in Lexington. Gov. Matt Bevin’s administration decided not to renew the contract of the battery center director. palcala@herald-leader.com

Gov. Matt Bevin’s administration has cut state funding to a battery research collaborative at the University of Kentucky by declining to renew the contract of the center’s only employee.

Dick Brown, spokesman for the Energy and Public Protection Cabinet, said Tuesday that the state had decided not to renew the contract of Tony Hancock, director of the Kentucky-Argonne Battery Manufacturing Research and Development Center, a collaboration among the state, Argonne National Laboratory in Chicago, UK and the University of Louisville.

The state contract for Hancock was for $44,000 a year, Brown said. UK paid for his travel and expenses on behalf of the center.

Hancock said Tuesday that the lab would be shut down, but declined to answer further questions.

Brown said the administration of Gov. Steve Beshear helped launch the collaborative in 2010 as a research center that would work with private companies to develop and improve lithium ion batteries for electric and hybrid cars, and in turn, attract more companies to Kentucky.

“The hope was that private companies would join the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville in doing research into efficient battery manufacturing research and development for the auto industry,” Brown said. “That did not happen, and the memorandum of understanding among UK, UL, Argonne and the commonwealth was not renewed when it expired in 2012.”

The collaborative has been housed at UK’s Center for Applied Energy Research at Spindletop off Ironworks Pike. CAER is a research collaborative that studies everything from algae to remediation of the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant.

CAER researchers work on batteries, but the center’s battery research goes well beyond cars, said CAER Director Rodney Andrews.

“The economic development just didn’t work out,” for Kentucky-Argonne, Andrews said.

While UK researchers do some work on car batteries, “our portfolio was always larger,” Andrews said, including battery safety and electric grid storage.

The Kentucky-Argonne lab was housed in a $20 million multidisciplinary building operated by CAER that opened in 2012. It was funded through federal stimulus money.

Labs in the building were designed for research of biofuels, solar technology and batteries. The specialized labs for batteries are “still available to be used by industry and other researchers in the state, whether they’re academic or from industry,” Andrews said.

Representatives of the Argonne National Laboratory in Chicago were not immediately available for comment.

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