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Obama: Argonne National Laboratory research crucial to alternative fuel future

President Barack Obama visits Argonne National Laboratory near Darien on Friday, March 15, 2013, to speak to media about alternative fuel's future.
President Barack Obama visits Argonne National Laboratory near Darien on Friday, March 15, 2013, to speak to media about alternative fuel's future.

ARGONNE — President Barack Obama stood in front of three cars that run on battery power, saying that one day, technology research being done at Argonne National Laboratory near Darien could help Americans travel further than ever before at a more affordable price.

However, the sequester cuts may largely affect alternative fuel research.

Obama told media gathered at Argonne on Friday that one of the reasons he is against the sequester is because it doesn't distinguish between wasteful programs and needed investments, such as the funding to continue some of the work and research at Argonne.

Located just outside Darien and Lemont in suburban Chicago, Argonne National Laboratory is one of the U.S. Department of Energy's largest national laboratories for scientific and engineering research. In December 2012, the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research, headquartered at Argonne, was chosen to be the new Batteries and Energy Storage Hub — representing a $120 million federal investment over the next five years.

Obama stressed continuing to fund research and finding new ways to distance ourselves from oil — keeping energy at home and creating new jobs.

"I chose (to come to) Argonne National Lab because right now, few areas hold more promise for creating new jobs and growing our economy than how we use American energy," Obama said.

In researching how to make batteries last longer, the facility plays a major role in the Department of Energy's energy storage program within its Office of Vehicle Technologies, focusing on improving lithium batteries for cars.

"Wouldn't you want your car battery, your phone battery or any battery for that matter to run longer and more efficiently?" said Karena Chapman, an Argonne scientist from Naperville who works on batteries in the preliminary stage.

Dr. Eric Isaacs, Argonne director, told Obama the cuts from the sequester would force him to stop any new project that’s coming down the line. But Isaacs said the immediate effects are still uncertain.

"We don't know yet because the whole government is trying to figure out what the cuts will be, so we're planning, but we're hoping for the best," Isaacs said.

In the meantime, Argonne scientists are still coming to work every day and continuing "their great work," he added.

During his visit, Obama also asked for Congress to authorize spending $2 billion over the next decade for research on electric cars and decreasing a need for oil in the U.S.

U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Western Springs, 3rd Dist., said he supported the president in terms of finding new energy sources, but that he'd need more details before he could agree on spending.

"From the president's speech, in theory, I think it's a good idea, but I really would need to see what the details are," Lipinski said. "With gas prices so high right now, everyone understands we need to get away from using oil."

New energy will not only eliminate the carbon footprint, but boost the economy, Obama said.

"I want the next great job-creating breakthroughs — whether it's in energy or nanotechnology or bioengineering — I want those breakthroughs to be right here in the United States of America, creating American jobs and maintaining our technological lead," Obama said.

The last visit by a president to Argonne was when George W. Bush made a trip in 2002, Argonne officials said.

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